Chatanooga ABC affiliate Channel 9 News ran a story yesterday headlined, “Tennessee woman fired for refusing employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate wins almost $700K.” A federal jury awarded $687,000 to a woman who was fired for refusing to take the covid shots mandated by her employer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Tanja Benton invoked a religious exemption but was fired anyway, despite never having contact with patients, and having worked from home.

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A Blue Cross HR flunky told Tanja that “there are no exceptions” to the jab mandate and then fired her. But the jury found she had a sincere religious belief precluding the shots. The jury, get this, awarded Tanja $177,240 in back pay, $10,000 in compensatory damages, and a whopping $500,000 in punitive damages.

That massive punitive damages award means the jury was pissed. More lawsuits are pending against Blue Cross. They should consider settling generously.

And even better, three U.S. circuits have also hammered employers over jab mandates over the last month.

???? Two weeks ago, the National Law Review ran a story headlined, “Religious Relief: Eighth Circuit Decides Employees’ Failure-to-Accommodate Claims Can be Heard Under Minnesota Law.” The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a case to proceed against Mayo Clinic, holding that the five plaintiffs may sue Mayo for failing to accommodate their religious beliefs, even if their views were “in the minority” within their religious group. In other words, it’s none of the employer’s business and nobody cares what the Pope thinks about the shots.

During the pandemic, Mayo had adopted a “vaccinate or terminate” policy for its employees. The hospital giant refused to accept any religious exemptions, exempting only employees with “valid” medical issues.

This is likely the end of the line for Mayo in this case, because it is unlikely the Supreme Court would accept any appeal of this decision. Now the plaintiffs’ case proceeds to trial.

???? Around the same time, Law360 ran a story with the difficult headline, “9th Circ. Nixes City’s Win In Wash. Firefighter Vax Order Suit.” Late last month, the Ninth Circuit revived a dismissed lawsuit by a group of firefighters who alleged Spokane, Washington violated their constitutional rights when it fired them for refusing to take the jabs.

The Ninth Circuit held that lower courts could not allow secular groups —those raising medical exemptions— to be treated more favorably than religious groups. The Ninth said that allowing temporary firefighters hired from a different city who were not vaccinated (under the other city’s allowed exemption), to stand in for firefighters that Spokane had fired for not taking the vaccine (having denied their religious exemption requests) violated those firefighters’ religious rights.

???? A couple weeks before that, in late May, Colorado Politics ran a story headlined, “’Hostile and discriminatory’: 10th Circuit slams Colorado University for treatment of religious vaccine exemptions.” In the most fiery opinion yet, the Federal Appellate court ripped into covid shot policies the University of Colorado imposed on its medical staff in late 2021, concluding CU discriminated against religion and the 15 affected plaintiffs, who should have received exemptions.

The stinging order could best be described as a nasty rebuke, describing CU’s jab policies as “permeated with animus.” Colorado University had issued a rule allowing religious exemptions, but only if the teachings of a particular employee’s religion were “opposed to all immunizations.”

Meaning, the exemption was only available if that person’s religion opposed all vaccines, not just the covid shots. Which totaled up to about one religion, the Christian Scientists.

Once again, like the other two Circuit Courts of Appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that employers must stay out of their employees’ heads and quit trying to figure out whether their religious beliefs were sufficiently sincere or not.

There are more cases! It is fair to say the legal dam has burst, and the tide has turned. We are in a new phase now. Courts and juries are starting to show some serious irritation with employers who were stingy with religious exemptions. Large jury verdicts are like catnip to lawyers, and as the verdicts roll in, more and more lawyers will eagerly file the lawsuits.

Back in 2021, I warned employers their stupid jab policies were going to result in a tsunami of lawsuits that would make the tobacco lawsuit bonanza look like a lone, scrawny, tobacco bush. Or tree, I can’t remember. You get the idea.