Dozens of former Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan employees have sued the state's largest insurer over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
At least 49 former employees have filed suit in recent weeks in district courts in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Wisconsin. All the plaintiffs allege religious discrimination by the Detroit insurer after it denied some people religious exemptions from receiving the vaccine and terminated them on Jan. 5 this year.
All 49 plaintiffs are represented by Hurwitz Law PLLC in Ann Arbor.
Principal Noah Hurwitz said his law firm represents 215 former BCBSM employees and anticipates filing a lawsuit for each individual, stating that because the denied exemptions were tailored to each individual, they cannot file jointly in a class action lawsuit.
The lawsuits follow approval from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which must sign off on complaints before an individual can file a lawsuit alleging discrimination based on race, sex or religion. Hurwitz said the approvals are trickling in from the EEOC, hence why only 49 of the planned 215 lawsuits have been filed.
BCBSM said in a statement it anticipated the lawsuits.
"Like other companies that have enacted vaccine requirements, we had an expectation that a lawsuit could be filed," BCBSM said in a statement sent to Crain's. "As an employer, we enacted a vaccine requirement for the health and safety of our employees. We did not arrive at this decision lightly. We value and respect all our employees and recognize there are strong and diverse views on the issue of the vaccine. We also recognize our responsibility to do our part as a healthcare leader to address COVID-19 in our communities."
The plaintiffs allege BCBSM permitted religious exemptions for hundreds of other workers but denied their requests on an arbitrary basis.
"(BCBSM) conducted a series of ambush-style interrogations with employees who submitted religious and medical accommodation requests," said a lawsuit by Ryan Romano, a former healthcare manager at BCBSM, filed in Eastern District Court in Detroit on Nov. 30.