A federal court in Ohio seems willing to consider the argument that veganism is a religion worthy of legal protections.
The claim comes in the context of a religious accommodation claim brought by a customer service representative at a Cincinnati children’s hospital. The plaintiff was fired after she refused to get a flu shot on the grounds that chicken eggs are used in preparation of flu vaccines and she was a vegan. Therefore, the plaintiff claimed, getting the shot would have violated her beliefs and the hospital was required to find a work-around to such beliefs rather than fire her.
Not surprisingly, the hospital moved to dismiss her lawsuit for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted arguing there is no religious accommodation necessary here since veganism is not a religion.
But the court at least initially disagreed. In refusing to dismiss the case, the judge said that it was possible that the plaintiff’s veganism could be a “moral or ethical belief” adhered to with the force of a religious belief. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said it will treat such beliefs as entitled to reasonable accommodation under Title VII even if they are not per se “religions” in the traditional sense. Additionally, in support of her claim, the plaintiff submitted some material indicating a “Biblical basis for veganism,” to push her contention that her veganism was “religious” in nature or at least held with the same strength as a religious belief.
Even though the court was sympathetic to the plaintiffs claims, the court recognized that the hospital may still be able to prove that it had legitimate patient-safety reasons for insisting that the plaintiff receive a flu shot. However, since the hospital filed this motion so early in the process, the court could not rule on that issue yet.
While the court allowed the plaintiff’s claim that her veganism was a religion worthy of employment accommodation, it did not specifically rule veganism was a religion. Instead, it simply held it was a claim it was willing to consider and wouldn’t dismiss the plaintiff’s case just yet. Also, because this was a preliminary motion, it is possible that the hospital will later be able to present evidence that the employee’s veganism was not, in fact, a “religious” belief, or not sincerely held in defense of their actions to terminate the employee.
What do you think? Should veganism be considered a belief akin to religion and therefore be protected by civil rights laws? And what about the hospital’s claim that refusing the flu shot put patients at risk? Should employees who do not believe in, or get vaccinations, for whatever the reason, be allowed to work in places like hospitals? What should happen when these beliefs come into conflict?
Photo from walknboston via flickr.