A judge has issued a temporary restraining order against NorthShore University HealthSystem, blocking the organization from firing 14 employees who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
14 unnamed employees being represented by Chicago-based Leahu Law Group and Florida-based Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
NorthShore University HealthSystem operates hospitals in Evanston, Highland Park, Glenview, Arlington Heights, Skokie and Chicago.
The lawsuit seeks to remedy NorthShore’s “pattern of unlawful discrimination” against employees who requested religious exemptions and accommodations from the hospital system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
According to the lawsuit, the termination of the 14 employees will cause “incalculable and irreparable harm to them and their families as described herein, including homelessness, lack of medical care, lack of food and shelter, disrupted education for their children, financial ruin, and harms to their physical, mental and emotional health.”
The suit said that the plaintiffs are against the COVID-19 vaccines because they were “either developed from, or tested with, aborted fetal cells lines” or for other religious reasons.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs asked the court to grant a temporary restraining order against NorthShore and a preliminary injunction.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge John Kness issued a temporary restraining order to prevent NorthShore from placing the employees on unpaid leave and from firing them.
The 14 employees were set to be placed on leave by NorthShore on November 1 and then terminated by the end of the year for refusing the vaccine mandate.
“They can’t be fired and they can’t be placed on what is effectively, in my mind, unpaid leave,” Kness said, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“The hospital’s going to have to keep paying them. If you wish to require them to show up to work and use PPE and go through testing because you need the help and you don’t want to pay them to be off-site, that’s up to the hospital,” Kness said.
In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, NorthShore said they understand “that getting vaccinated may be a difficult decision for some of our team members.”
“We value their committed service and respect their beliefs. However, COVID-19 has presented unique challenges that continue to threaten our communities and therefore we must prioritize the safety of our patients and team members in support of our broader mission,” the statement said.
The next court hearing is scheduled for November 16.