Bristol Myers Squibb Co. was sued on Wednesday by four employees who said the drugmaker refused to grant them religious exemptions from its COVID-19 vaccination requirement and threatened to fire them on December 6 for failing to not be vaccinated.
Plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court accused Bristol Myers of violating a federal civil rights law known as Title VII by “systematically fabricating” reasons for denying religious accommodations.
The plaintiffs allege that Bristol Myers concludes that their policy is the real reason they will not be vaccinated, whether or not they have sincere religious beliefs that would independently justify exemptions.
They also said the company ignores sincere religious beliefs that are “inconvenient” for refusal decisions, even as it accommodates employees with medical reasons not to be vaccinated.
Bristol Myers said his priority during the pandemic has been the health and safety of communities, employees and patients.
“Our policy that all eligible employees in the United States and Puerto Rico must be vaccinated against COVID-19 is consistent with this safety priority,” the New York-based company said in a statement.
Wednesday’s lawsuit came as the Biden administration seeks to demand the vaccination of millions of workers at large private U.S. employers, a warrant is also being challenged in court.
Many health officials see widespread immunizations as the best way to help control the pandemic.
Bristol Myers’ plaintiffs, all with six-figure salaries, are Carrie Kefalas, a physician overseeing the risk management of clinical trials for drug development; biotechnologist John Lott; Data Integrity Officer Jeremy Beer and Biologist Kamila Dubisz.
They objected to the company asking them to fill out “inquisitorial” questionnaires on the reasons for their religious exemptions.
The complaint said Bristol Myers rejected Kefalas’ request because she believed her beliefs were not sincere and that she might not agree to wearing masks or regular COVID-19 testing. The company gave no reason for the other refusals, according to the complaint.
Bristol Myers referred in Kefalas’ rejection letter to several statements she made public, including that her vaccine needs were “communist and anti-American practice.”
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against the dismissal by Bristol Myers of plaintiffs or employees in a similar situation.
Bristol Myers ended 2020 with around 17,000 US employees.
The case is Kefalas et al v Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, United States District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-10204.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman
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