Ex-Employee Files Suit After COVID-19 Testing Led to Termination

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed against Rocky Knoll Healthcare Center in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The suit was brought by former employee Ruth Villareal, who alleged that she was wrongfully discharged from her position based on her religious beliefs.

The issue originated in May 2020 when the defendant was asked by her employer to sign a waiver for mass COVID-19 testing. The plaintiff was concerned that these tests might be in violation of her religious practice of not receiving medical intervention while in good health. The plaintiff states that the defendant was aware of this practice due to her refusal of the annual flu vaccination provided by her employer each year. She expressed these concerns to her employer but they failed to respond to her inquiry. 

Later, on June 11, 2020, she received notice that there would be mandatory COVID-19 testing for all staff beginning on June 15. Refusal to do so would be considered misconduct and would result in suspension or termination. The plaintiff reached out to the defendant and requested that they provide her with an exemption based on her religious beliefs and assured them that she would follow all other health protocols that did not interfere with her religious practices. After the defendant expressed doubt and concern over the legitimacy of her claim, the plaintiff cited the specific “religious tenets” that prevented her from testing and stated that participating would be “testing her faith.”

A few days later on June 15, the defendant notified the plaintiff that refusal to receive testing would result in termination. The plaintiff’s subsequent refusal resulted in termination on June 19th. After exhausting all administrative solutions, she decided to bring a suit against the defendant.

The plaintiff claimed that by terminating her employment, the defendant violated Title VII, which protects against discrimination in the workplace under the basis of race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, or national origin. She stated the defendant showed a reckless and callous indifference towards her federally protected right by responding to her accommodation requests with threat of termination and eventually violated those rights by terminating her despite the fact that she had exercised these rights in previous instances with her employer without conflict.

The plaintiff requests that the court award her compensatory and punitive damages as well as any other fees or compensation that they deem appropriate. 

The plaintiff is represented by Levine Eisberner