According to documents obtained by The Post Millennial, the complaint names the City of Seattle, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, former Mayor Jenny Durkan, and several human resources employees.
The complaint tells the stories of each of the firefighters. The stories are all similar in that the firefighters who applied for exemptions from taking the vaccine due to their sincerely held religious beliefs were granted a religious exemption but were then denied accommodations.
According to the complaint, the defendants “refused to engage Plaintiffs in a legally required interactive dialogue to discuss accommodations that would have kept Plaintiffs employed.”
On August 9, 2021, Governor Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 21-14 which said that “State agencies…must provide any disability-related reasonable accommodations and sincerely held religious belief accommodations to the requirements of this Order that are required under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act), Title VII of the CivilRights act of 1964 (Title VII), the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), and any other applicable law.”
Additionally, “coinciding with the Governor’s announcement… Defendant Mayor Jenny Durkan issued Mayoral Directive #9, on August 9, 2021, which required all city employees to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment before October 18, 2021, in order to “…reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Durkan stated in a memo announcing the vaccine mandate to City employees, dated August 9, 2021, that “[s]tarting Monday, October 18, 2021,” those “who had applied and are verified to have a medical or religious exemption will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing weekly and be required to distance,” adding “The City of Seattle likewise authorized testing and distancing as an accommodation to those who had an exemption to the vaccine.”
According to the complaint, “This announcement came just four days after the CDC announced that the vaccine did not prevent transmission which Defendant Durkan was certainly aware of and influenced her statement that accommodations would be provided for religious and medically exempt employees.”
The documents stated, “However, despite making that statement on August 9, 2021, coinciding with the CDC announcement on August 5, 2021, that the vaccine did not stop transmission, Defendant Durkan thereafter universally denied accommodation to all Plaintiffs, essentially rescinding an accommodation that she had previously granted,” and added, “Defendants did not follow their own guidance or policy with respect to Plaintiffs, who were all found to have a sincerely held religious belief.”
The complaint alleged that “Defendants stated it would be a two-step process to decide first if there was an exemption, and second, if that exemption could be accommodated after an interactive dialogue with Plaintiff. Defendants combined their process into one step, reviewed a job description, declared the employee posed a threat, and skipped the interactive dialogue.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote, “This defied the terms of the Proclamation SFD supported, which required an interactive dialogue in accordance with Title VII, ADA, and WLAD. SFD created their own 'mandate within a mandate' in a rogue attempt to discriminate against religious objectors and denied that which the Proclamation demanded.” They added that “Defendants ignored the terms of the Proclamation, while simultaneously ignoring the guidance provided by OFM detailing accommodation suggestions and implementing the Proclamation.”
“Ironically, Defendants proceeded at warp speed to terminate Plaintiffs for alleged failure to comply with the Mandate, while Defendants themselves were failing to comply with the Mandate.”
Previously, a whistleblower exposed that the Defendants “admitted that medical exemptions would be accommodated, but religious would not.”
The complaint alleged that “Defendants did not consider other alternatives to full vaccination, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), distancing, testing, or other strategies used by a majority of the fire departments across the state that fully accommodated firefighters without termination, infra, especially given the failure of the vaccine to stop the spread or reinfection of those who were vaccinated,” strategies that were later employed by the department when the virus continued to spread “despite the termination of all unvaccinated Firefighters.”
According to the complaint, “Internal memos show SFD had actual knowledge of breakthrough cases before terminating the Plaintiffs.”
The complaint also alleged that “…many firefighters at SFD utilized fraudulent vaccine cards, which Defendants are aware of, and thus kept their jobs.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim that documents requested have not been obtained from Scoggins and note that Judge Thomas Zilly, United States District Judge for the Western District of Seattle, previously sanctioned “…the City of Seattle for Defendant Scoggins’ act of ‘purging….thousands’ of text messages, holding that the Court would instruct a jury in a wrongful death action that it may presume that the City of Seattle’s deleted text messages were unfavorable to the City.”
The firefighters are seeking unspecified damages from the defendants, but asked that they be “made whole.”
Even though most COVID vaccine mandates across the US have been dropped, employment lawsuits related to the mandates continue to be filed and litigated. According to the Fisher Phillips COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker, there were still 4,544 active, pandemic-related employment cases as of last week. 2,724 of the cases are related to employment discrimination including wrongful terminations and only 18 percent have been resolved. 1,920 of the cases are related to the vaccine.
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