A licensed practical nurse has filed a lawsuit against Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, claiming religious discrimination in her dismissal for refusing to get a flu shot.

Pequea Township resident Shyanne Aukamp-Corcoran filed the federal lawsuit on Dec. 5 in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District court, seeking compensatory and punitive damages in unspecified amounts.

“As a general practice, we do not comment on ongoing litigation or personnel matters,” LG Health spokesman John Lines said in an email. “Many hospitals across the country have mandatory flu vaccination programs to provide for the health and safety of their patients, visitors and employees.”

What the suit says

According to the lawsuit, the system started a mandatory vaccination policy in 2012 and Aukamp-Corcoran got the flu shot annually starting then through 2016.

But, it says, after she began attending Refton Brethren in Christ Church, researched potential dangers of vaccines, had a miscarriage and then became pregnant again, she “came to believe that her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that she is to honor God with her body.”

As a result, it continues, she “believes her religion requires her to keep her body pure from everything that contaminates the body and spirit, and she further believes that she is required by her religious beliefs to refrain from receiving vaccines.”

Pastor’s statement

Scott MacFeat Jr., lead pastor of the Refton church, responded to a question about the lawsuit with an emailed statement: “The Brethren In Christ Denomination does not have an official position or statement on flu shots.”

Lancaster General’s policy provides for exemptions on medical and religious grounds, according to the lawsuit, and employees granted those must wear a mask when within six feet of any person during flu season.

Aukamp-Corcoran attempted to get a medical exemption, but “her OB/GYN was on vacation at the time of the request and her midwife did not feel comfortable providing a note since the Center for Disease Control states the influenza vaccine is safe for pregnant women.”

So, the lawsuit says, Aukamp-Corcoran submitted a note explaining the reasons why she was asking for a religious exemption, and then had a brief telephone interview with a retired judge that the system appointed as an independent reviewer.

Exemption denied

Her request was denied, she says in her lawsuit, and she learned that the reviewer reasoned that because she had tattoos and piercings, she did not actually view her body as a temple that should be preserved and kept holy.

According to the lawsuit, she refused to get the flu shot; was terminated on Jan. 5, 2018; and filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and “is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.”

She then got an attorney on her own and filed the case in federal court.