A nurse was unfairly denied unemployment benefits after she was fired for refusing a flu shot without claiming a religious or medical exemption, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Thursday.
The three-judge panel wrote that the hospital’s policy of allowing religious or medical exemptions but not for secular reasons “unconstitutionally discriminated against” plaintiff June Valent.
Valent was working as a nurse at Hackettstown Community Hospital in 2010 when they began requiring employees to take the flu vaccine unless they had medical or religious reasons not to. Anyone refusing was required to wear a mask while at work.
Valent declined the vaccine and agreed to wear a mask. She was terminated and disqualified for unemployment benefits by a Department of Labor board, who ruled that she engaged in work-related misconduct.
Thursday’s ruling concluded that the hospital violated Valent’s right to freedom of expression by endorsing the religious-based exemption while denying her secular choice.