Complaint claims Minnesota nursing home discriminated against Catholic employee

According to Reinke, the nursing home "argued and fought" with him over whether his beliefs were "truly sincere."

The Brookdale Senior Living Center in North Oaks (Photo by Brookdale Senior Living)

A North Oaks nursing home rejected a Catholic employee’s request for a vaccine exemption despite granting exemptions to employees of other faiths, a complaint filed Monday claims.

Daniel Reinke, a sales and marketing manager at Brookdale Senior Living Center in North Oaks, says he was placed on unpaid leave and threatened with termination when he refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19 on religious grounds.

“I sincerely believe that receiving an injection produced, developed, or tested using human cell lines derived from direct abortions is sinful. All three available vaccines in the United States were tested, developed, or produced using these cell lines. I believe that abortion is a mortal sin, and any act supporting it, such as receiving the COVID-19 injection, would make me complicit in the act of abortion,” Reinke says in a charge of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“I explicitly communicated this to Brookdale. I sincerely believe, similar to other employees at Brookdale, that I cannot in good conscience receive the COVID-19 vaccination. It would require me to act inconsistent with my sincerely held religious beliefs grounded in my commitment to God in accordance with the Catholic Church,” he continues.

Reinke has obtained the legal services of True North Legal and the Upper Midwest Law Center. In a press release, the nonprofits said Brookdale’s “blatant religious discrimination” against Reinke violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

“Religious freedom benefits everyone. If we want freedom ourselves, we need to extend it to others, even when we disagree. Regardless of your position on vaccines, we can all agree that corporations cannot and should not force people to violate their religious beliefs. Do we really want to live in a society where private corporations, like Brookdale, believe they know more about Catholic doctrine than the Archbishop?” said Renee Carlson, general counsel for True North Legal.

According to Reinke, Brookdale “argued and fought” with him over whether his beliefs were “truly sincere.” He also claims that Brookdale, which employs 62,000 Americans nationwide, granted a religious exemption to one of his Buddhist colleagues.

“I cannot sit back and allow Brookdale to trample on the rights of religious employees choosing to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs. While I’m standing up for myself and my family, my actions are for the greater good. I’m fighting on behalf of everyone who has suffered from this kind of religious discrimination,” Reinke said in a statement.

True North Legal and the Upper Midwest Law Center plan to pursue additional legal action after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concludes its investigation.

“There is no room in the United States for discrimination between people of different faiths. If businesses want to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees, they cannot ignore Title VII,” said Upper Midwest Law Center attorney James Dickey.

“They still need to accommodate sincere religious objections, especially because employees can mask and take the same COVID-19 precautions that were acceptable less than a year ago. Further, companies like Brookdale cannot use fear and coercion to avoid complying with federal law just because they disagree with employees’ religious beliefs.”