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Iowa man sues after being fired for refusing to ‘sin’ by getting vaccinated

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Iowa man sues after being fired for refusing to ‘sin’ by getting vaccinated

Nov 28, 2023 | 6:47 pm ET
By Clark Kauffman
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Iowa man sues after being fired for refusing to ‘sin’ by being vaccinated
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An Iowa medical-supply worker is suing his former employer over the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. (Photo by Getty Images)

An Iowa medical-supply worker is suing his former employer for refusing to accommodate his religious beliefs by requiring him to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Brandon S. Hoefer of Butler County says he was fired for refusing to comply with a directive from his employer, the medical supply company NuCara, to be vaccinated, despite his belief that the vaccine was sinful and that “God will heal me in times of illness.”

Hoefer is suing the company for alleged civil rights violations related to his religious beliefs. He alleges that he worked as a salesman for NuCara from 2017 through November of 2021, when he was fired for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The lawsuit, filed in state court and then in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, alleges that as a result of his job he had “minimal interaction” with nursing home residents, but did have regular, in-person meetings with nursing home employees.

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the lawsuit alleges, Hoefer performed most of his work from home, maintaining the same level of production as he had when meeting in person with nursing home workers.

On May 13, 2021, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued an interim rule requiring COVID-19 vaccines to be offered to all residents, clients and staff.

Hoefer alleges he was concerned about the rule because receiving the COVID-19 vaccine “would violate his sincerely held religious beliefs,” which the lawsuit doesn’t describe. He says his opposition to the vaccine was also based on a severe anaphylactic reaction he’d experienced after receiving a different vaccine, and so he asked NuCara to provide him with paperwork to seek a religious and medical exemption.

In August 2021, CMS announced that it would be requiring that all staff in Medicaid-certified nursing homes to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  At that point, Hoefer alleges, he renewed his request for paperwork to seek an exemption.

In September 2021, CMS extended the vaccination requirement to nearly all Medicare- and Medicaid-certified suppliers and providers. Within weeks, NuCara announced its intention to require all employees, including Hoefer, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The company’s CEO allegedly told Hoefer he would have to be vaccinated in order to keep his job and that NuCara would not be granting any exemptions.

Hoefer requested an exemption anyway, sending the company a letter that quoted biblical passages and referenced his “personal belief that my body is a sacred temple.” In his letter, he objected to getting the COVID-19 vaccine and stated, “I wholeheartedly believe that this would be a sin and would go against what God has created and entrusted me with …  I firmly believe that God will heal me in times of illness, and to doubt this power would be detrimental to my faith.”

The company allegedly informed Hoefer that any accommodations made for him would create an “undue hardship” on NuCara and so the vaccine mandate’s provision for exemptions did not apply. At no point, the lawsuit claims, did NuCara inquire about Hoefer’s religious beliefs or medical history.

The lawsuit also claims Hoefer’s request for a religious exemption could have been accommodated by NuCara without causing any undue hardship for the business as evidenced by his 18 months of remote working prior to the vaccine mandate being imposed.

Hoefer alleges he “would not have been terminated but for his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccination,” and that he was “harassed by other NuCara employees and pressured to get the COVID-19 vaccination.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for civil rights violations. NuCara has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.