The Superior Court of New Jersey's appellate division said the
state's Department of Labor erred in refusing to pay unemployment
insurance to a nurse fired for declining to receive a flu vaccine
out of personal conviction, rather than on religious or medical
"The Board's ruling unconstitutionally violated appellant's freedom
of expression," said the three-judge panel.
June Valent was a nurse at the Hackettstown Community Hospital in
September 2010 when the company issued a policy requiring employees
to get a flu vaccination. The rule allowed workers to claim an
exemption on religious or medical grounds provided they submitted a
note from a religious leader or a doctor.
Valent refused the vaccine, opting to wear a protective face mask
during flu season. But she did not have a note and was later fired.
The New Jersey Department of Labor, at the behest of the hospital,
then tried to deny her unemployment benefits on the grounds she had
been fired for insubordination, the opinion said.
Valent, who argued on behalf of herself, rejected that claim, saying
she agreed to wear a face mask, which was part of the new policy for
those who chose to forgo the vaccination on religious grounds.
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"The religion-based exemption irrefutably illustrates that the flu
vaccination policy is not based exclusively on public health
concerns," the opinion said.
Lee Moore, a spokesman for the state's attorney general, declined to
comment on the case, other than to say: “The decision is under
Valent could not be immediately reached for comment.
(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Peter Cooney)
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