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Two lawsuits against Mayo Clinic over vaccine firings may be the start of a wave of cases

Two former Mayo Clinic employees — Shelly Kiel of Owatonna and Sherry Ihde of Zumbro Falls — filed lawsuits this week claiming they were unfairly fired for refusing COVD-19 vaccines. Their attorney

Mayo Clinic
Minneapolis attorney Gregory Erickson said these two cases are just the first of more than 100 similar ones that he is filing against Mayo Clinic.
Joe Ahlquist / Rochester Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER – Two former Mayo Clinic employees filed lawsuits this week claiming they were unfairly fired for refusing COVD-19 vaccines. They may be the first of a coming wave of wrongful termination suits.

Minneapolis attorney Gregory Erickson, who represents Shelly Kiel of Owatonna and Sherry Ihde of Zumbro Falls, said these two cases are just the first of more than 100 similar ones that he is filing against Mayo Clinic.

He also expects to file similar suits against Olmsted Medical Center for former employees that he is representing.

“About 80 to 100 of the cases against Mayo Clinic will be for people who live in Rochester,” said Erickson on Wednesday evening. “A lot more cases will be filed next week.”

He said he also represents fired Mayo Clinic employees in Wisconsin, Florida and Arizona.

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Mayo Clinic issued a statement about the lawsuits.

"Mayo Clinic stands firmly behind the evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines to help protect the health and safety of our patients, workforce, visitors and communities. The Mayo Clinic COVID-19 vaccination program remains in effect," wrote Mayo Clinic officials. "Mayo Clinic will defend its vaccine program implementation and disputes many of the factual allegations in the lawsuit."

The statement added, "Mayo Clinic recognizes that some employees have deeply held religious beliefs that led them to seek exemption from COVID-19 vaccination. In compliance with established laws, Mayo offered its employees the option to request a religious accommodation. The majority of religious exemption requests were granted."

These actions follow up ones that Erickson started in 2021 as the debate over vaccines and religious exemptions started to heat up with employee protests.

In late September, he filed a suit against a collection of large providers on behalf of 200 anonymous health care employees. The goal was to block vaccine mandates within hospitals, but U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Brasel declined to take that step.

In 2021, Mayo Clinic instituted a rule that all employees were required to be vaccinated unless exempted for religious or medical reasons or face termination in January. When the deadline arrived, Mayo Clinic said “nearly 99 percent” of its 73,000 employees were vaccinated or had exemptions.

An estimated 700 Mayo Clinic employees were fired for not complying with the rule. Many vowed to sue, setting the stage for the legal actions this summer.

Each case will be different, though the opposition to being vaccinated will be at the heart of all them.

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Shelly Kiel worked as a licensed practical nurse for Mayo Clinic for more than 18 years. In her lawsuit, she claimed that she had natural immunity after having COVID-19 as well as having an religious opposition to the vaccine.

“Plaintiff Kiel requested a religious exemption from the Vaccine Mandate and then a requested a reconsideration, which were both denied. Plaintiff Kiel is a Christian who believes, based on her interpretation of scripture, that her body is a Temple to the Holy Spirit and it violates her religious beliefs and conscience to take the Covid-19 vaccine,” according to her lawsuit.

She is requesting damages, “including front pay, back pay, treble damages and statutory penalty, interest, emotional distress and pain and suffering, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and any damages or penalties available at law.”

Sherry Ihde worked in Mayo Clinic’s Bacteriology Lab for 23 years. While she was granted a religious exemption from taking the vaccine on Nov. 24, 2021, Ihde opposed Mayo Clinic’s rule that exempt employees must be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.

“Plaintiff Ihde then filed a further request for a religious accommodation to exempt her from undergoing weekly COVID-19 testing,” according to the complaint.

After Mayo Clinic denied her request, Ihde was fired on Feb. 21, 2022.

Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard Around Rochester," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. The opinions of my employer do not necessarily reflect my opinions. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.
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