MNMC files motion to dismiss civil rights suit

Mount Nittany Medical Center on June 17, 2016.
Mount Nittany Medical Center on June 17, 2016. Centre Daily Times, file

Mount Nittany Medical Center has asked a federal judge to dismiss the civil rights suit of a registered nurse who was terminated for refusing to be vaccinated for religious reasons.

In a summary judgment motion filed Friday in U.S. Middle District Court, the medical center contends the claims of Rebecca Smith, of Alexandria, fail.

The medical center claims prior to termination, Smith never gave “fair warning” that she held sincere religious beliefs that conflicted with the vaccination requirement.

It claims it attempted to interact with Smith but she ignored those efforts for more than two months.

When Smith disclosed her sincere religious beliefs several weeks after her termination, the medical center said it offered to bring her back to work with accommodation.

She refused to cooperate or accept the offer for several more months, the medical center says.

The dispute between Smith and Mount Nittany stems from a notification she received when she returned from maternity leave in March 2015 that vaccination for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis had become a mandatory condition of employment.

She did not receive the vaccine on the date she was scheduled so she was removed from the schedule.

Smith, an obstetrics and gynecology department nurse, wrote a “grievance” letter on that May 7 complaining about the mandated vaccination policy.

That June, Gerald Dittmann, vice president of human resources, asked Smith for specific reasons why she was opposed to the vaccination. When she did not respond, she was terminated July 9, 2015.

That July 31, the medical center said it received a reply from Smith that she believed as a Christian that the practice of receiving vaccines “clearly violated the laws and principles of God’s Word the Bible.”

That prompted discussions that resulted in an accommodation for Smith’s religious objection to the vaccine, a brief in support of the summary judgment motions states.

Immediately after the July 31 letter, Smith filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Last November Mount Nittany made a third offer that included accommodations. Smith accepted in December and returned to work in February.

Smith’s lawsuit claims she may not work in the OB/GYN department because of the undeveloped immune systems of infants.

In other departments, she must wear a surgical mask when within 6 feet of a patient, the suit states.

Since Smith already has amended her original complaint for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, the medical center seeks dismissal without the opportunity to further amend it.