DUBLIN, Ohio (WCMH) – The federal employment discrimination watchdog is suing UnitedHealthcare out of its Dublin office for firing an employee who would not receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to her religious beliefs.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint in federal court on Sept. 19, accusing UnitedHealthcare of unlawfully rejecting a former employee’s religious exemption requests to a COVID-19 requirement and then firing her. The employee, working remotely at the time, objected to the use of cells derived from fetal tissue in the development of the vaccines.

“Once an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance prevents the employee from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship,” Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Philadelphia district office, is quoted in a news release. “Neither healthcare providers nor COVID-19 vaccination requirements are excepted from Title VII’s protections against religious discrimination.”

Amanda Stone had worked for United Healthcare since 2014, according to the complaint, and most recently served as a clinical administration supervisor. She began working remotely in 2018 due to budget cuts and never had to enter UnitedHealthcare facilities for work.

In October 2021, UnitedHealthcare implemented a COVID-19 vaccination requirement but exempted fully remote employees. Despite the exemption, the complaint claims, Stone was ordered to receive a vaccine.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, Stone is a Christian whose religious beliefs preclude her from receiving vaccines developed or tested using “cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.” She submitted two religious exemption requests, which were both denied. After placing her on a month of administrative leave, UnitedHealthcare fired Stone in January 2021 for her vaccine refusal. 

Stone complained to the EEOC, and this March the commission found reasonable cause to believe that the company violated Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination. The EEOC asked UnitedHealthcare to participate in commission-supervised conciliation, but the employer failed to do so, according to the complaint.

A UnitedHealthcare representative said in a statement that the company disagrees with the EEOC’s determination and said it plans to “vigorously defend ourselves.”

“We continue to respect individual beliefs, while working to ensure the health, well-being and safety of our colleagues and those we are privileged to serve,” the statement reads.

The EEOC is seeking back pay for Stone, as well as compensation and punitive damages for UnitedHealthcare’s “malicious and reckless conduct,” according to the complaint.

Do COVID-19 vaccines contain ‘cell lines from aborted fetuses’?

When COVID-19 vaccines became available to the public, some anti-abortion advocates objected to the use of fetal cell lines in their testing and development.

None of the COVID-19 vaccines contains fetal cells, but cell lines derived from donated fetal tissue were used in their development.

Many vaccines, including ones for rabies, rubella and Hepatitis A, were developed using fetal cell lines derived from two abortions performed in the 1970s and 1980s. Fetal cell lines are commonly used in research for their easy replicability, and cells used today contain no matter from the original fetal tissue.

Most COVID-19 vaccines were developed and tested using these fetal cell lines. Fetal cell lines were used in testing the efficacy of the mRNA vaccines, but the actual vaccines are not produced using the fetal cell lines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses fetal cell lines in some of its production – but the vaccine does not contain fetal tissue.