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Ex-Ohio hospital worker sues over flu requirement

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 17, 2013 at 11:51 am •  Published: January 17, 2013

CINCINNATI (AP) — A former longtime customer service representative at an Ohio hospital has filed a lawsuit after she was fired for refusing to get a flu shot because she is vegan.

Requiring employees to get a flu shot is standard at many hospitals because of their close contact with vulnerable patients. But some of those employees take issue with the requirement and refuse for various reasons.

That includes Sakile Chenzira (sah-KEEL'-aye CHEN'-zeer-ah), a 58-year-old Cincinnati woman who was fired from Cincinnati Children's Hospital in December 2010 for refusing to get the shot as required of all employees at the hospital, although it's unclear whether she had any direct contact with patients. Chenzira cited her veganism, whose practitioners do not consume any animal products; the flu vaccine contains a small amount of egg protein.

Chenzira filed a lawsuit against the hospital on Dec. 28, 2011, seeking a minimum of $650,000, and the case is set to go to trial before a jury in July.

In the lawsuit, Chenzira accuses the hospital of violating her civil rights and discriminating against her religion.

The hospital argues that veganism is not a religion, comparing her situation to a 1992 case involving a Ku Klux Klan member whose lawsuit over being fired for participating in a Hitler rally was thrown out by a federal judge who ruled that the KKK is political and social in nature, not religious.

"Chenzira has pled no more than a dietary preference or social philosophy for what she consumes, which is insufficient to state a claim for religious discrimination," wrote the hospital's attorney, Eugene Droder III, in his request in April to have the lawsuit thrown out.

Chenzira argued that her veganism constitutes a moral and ethical belief as strong as any religion and even cited Bible passages that she argued backed her up.

Late last month, U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel agreed to throw out one claim in Chenzira's suit, but ruled that she still can pursue her claim of religious discrimination, writing that it's plausible that Chenzira "could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views."

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