Jury Rules in Favor of Freedom: Blue Cross BlueShield of Tennessee Ordered to Pay Almost $700,000 to Employee Fired for Refusing COVID Vaccine

In a landmark decision, a federal jury has ordered Blue Cross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) to pay nearly $700,000 to Tanja Benton, a former employee who was terminated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine based on her religious beliefs.

Benton, who served as a Bio Statistical Research Scientist, asserts that her role involved minimal client interaction and no necessity for physical presence at medical facilities.

Throughout her 16-year tenure, Benton primarily worked independently and remotely, especially during the pandemic, when she executed her duties without issue from March 2020 to November 2021. Despite this, BCBST enforced a company-wide vaccine mandate in August 2021, requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated as a condition of continued employment.

Benton, guided by her deeply held religious beliefs, refused the vaccine, citing her objection to the use of aborted fetus cell lines in vaccine development. Recall that unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was partially developed using cell lines derived from an aborted human fetus.

Her request for a religious accommodation to continue working remotely, as she had been, was denied by BCBST.

Instead, the company offered her a “Safe Harbor” period to find another position within the organization that was not subject to the vaccine mandate, an offer Benton contends was insincere and impractical.

In her complaint, Benton alleges that BCBST violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tennessee Human Rights Act by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs. She claims that her termination was unjust and that the “Safe Harbor” period was a hollow gesture, as BCBST extended the vaccine mandate to all positions shortly after her dismissal.

The complaint seeks various forms of relief, including back pay, emotional damages, reinstatement, or front pay in lieu of reinstatement, and punitive damages. Benton also requests that the court issue an injunction requiring BCBST to re-employ her without imposing any illegal conditions on her job.

Now, the jury found that Benton’s refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination was indeed based on a sincerely held religious belief. Furthermore, they concluded that BlueCross did not provide a reasonable accommodation for her religious beliefs and could not demonstrate that accommodating her would result in undue hardship for the company.

The jury awarded total damages of 687,240 to Benton, including 177,240 in back pay damages, 10,000 in compensatory damages, and 500,000 in punitive damages.

The ruling reads:

The jury found that Plaintiff, TANJA BENTON, proved by a preponderance of the evidence that her refusal to receive the Covid vaccination was based upon a sincerely held religious belief. The parties stipulated that the remaining elements of Plaintiff’s claims were met and the jury was so instructed.

The jury further found that Defendant, BLUECROSS BLUESHIELD OF TENNESSEE, INC., did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence either that it had offered a reasonable accommodation to Plaintiff or that it could not reasonably accommodate the Plaintiff’s religious beliefs without undue hardship. Liability for Plaintiff’s religious accommodation claims is therefore established by the jury’s verdict.

Finally, the jury found that Plaintiff proved her entitlement to punitive damages by a preponderance of the evidence. By separate verdict, the jury awarded punitive damages. The jury awarded total damages to Plaintiff in the amount of $687,240.00, comprised of $177,240.00 in back pay damages, $10,000.00 in compensatory damages, and, by separate verdict, $500,000.00 in punitive damages

Accordingly, judgment is entered in favor of Plaintiff TANJA BENTON and against Defendant BLUECROSS BLUESHIELD OF TENNESSEE, INC. in the amount of $687,240.00 with post-judgment interest at the rate set by 28 U.S.C. § 1961.

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Jim Hᴏft is the founder and editor of The Gateway Pundit, one of the top conservative news outlets in America. Jim was awarded the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award in 2013 and is the proud recipient of the Breitbart Award for Excellence in Online Journalism from the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in May 2016.

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