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$700,000 awarded to employee who refused Covid vaccine

RN Bryan Phan administers a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to a client on March 31, 2021 in Lakewood, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times/TNS)
July 02, 2024

A Tennessee woman fired by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) for refusing to follow the company’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement has been awarded a settlement of almost $700,000 by a federal jury.

The federal jury determined that former BCBST employee Tanja Benton “proved by a preponderance of the evidence” that her decision to refuse the COVID-19 vaccination was made due to a “sincerely held religious belief.” The jury awarded Benton over $177,000 in back pay, $500,000 in punitive damages, and $10,000 in compensatory damages.

According to WTVC, Benton worked at BCBST from 2005 until November 2022. During her time with BCBST, she primarily worked as a bio statistical research scientist. Benton’s lawsuit explained that her job did not involve regular contact with other people and never had any contact with patients.

The lawsuit noted that Benton worked from home for approximately a year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic prior to BCBST announcing that all employees would have to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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In her lawsuit, Benton explained that she refused to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine requirement because she “firmly believes, based upon personal research, that all COVID-19 vaccines are derived from aborted fetus cell lines.” As a result, Benton claimed that she could not “in good conscience” take the COVID-19 vaccine since it “would not only defile her body but also anger and dishonor God.”

After the company announced the mandatory vaccine requirement, Benton applied for a religious exemption; however, BCBST denied her request and warned her that she would lose her job if she did not abide by the vaccine requirement.

While Benton appealed the company’s decision since her job did not involve contact with other people, the lawsuit claims she was reportedly told that no one with her job title was eligible for an exemption.

In a previous statement to WTVC, BCBST wrote, “The vaccine requirement was the best decision for the health and safety of our employees and members – some of whom are the most vulnerable in the state – and our communities. We appreciate our former employees’ service to our members and communities throughout their time with BlueCross.”

Benton eventually filed the federal lawsuit after the company terminated her employment, leading to the almost $700,000 settlement.