Court Dismisses Covid Vaccine Failure-to-Accommodate-Religion Claim Asserted Under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws

In Ashandra v. 1199 Seiu Nat. Ben. Fund, No. 1599612022, 2023 WL 6975971 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Oct. 18, 2023), the court granted the defendant’s CPLR 3211(a)(7) motion to dismiss plaintiff’s failure-to-accommodate-religious-practices claim asserted under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

In sum, plaintiff alleged that defendant violated the law by terminating her employment for refusing to get the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

In concluding that plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a cause of action, the court explained:

The NYSHRL (see Executive Law § 296 [10]) and NYCHRL (see NYC Administrative Code § 8-107 [3]) make it an unlawful employment practice to require an employee, as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment, to violate or forego a sincerely held practice of his or her religion unless the employer demonstrates, after engaging in a bona fide effort, that it is unable to reasonably accommodate the employee’s religious belief. To plead a cause of action for a failure to accommodate a religious belief under the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL, plaintiff must allege that (1) she has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement, (2) she informed the employer of this belief, and (3) she was disciplined for a failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. Defendant contends that plaintiff has failed to allege any facts establishing that she had a sincerely held religious belief that conflicted with its COVID-19 mRNA vaccine mandate; instead, the only allegation contained in the complaint that details plaintiff’s religious belief is in paragraph 7, which provides, “the vaccine mandate conflicted with plaintiff’s sincerely held religious convictions.” The Court agrees. Paragraph 7 is a statement that consists of a bare legal conclusion with no factual specificity: it is a rote assertion that element (1) of a NYSHRL and NYCHRL claim has been met, providing no description of either the sincerely held religious belief or how defendant’s COVID vaccine mandate conflicts with it. As such, it is not sufficiently particular to give the Court and defendants notice of the occurrence intended to be proven.

[Cleaned up.]

The court, however, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss under CPLR 3211(a)(1), since the “documentary evidence” cited by defendant – including plaintiff’s exemption request and defendant’s rejection letter – did “not definitively establish that plaintiff does not have a cause of action.”

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