Federal Reserve fires unvaccinated employee, calls him an ‘undue hardship’

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve revoked Ryan Witthoft's religious exemption for the vaccine mandate months after granting him the exemption in August.

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank's headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. (Alpha News)

An employee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis was fired after refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, months after his exemption was initially accepted last summer.

Ryan Witthoft told Liz Collin that his religious exemption was accepted in August. He had worked at the Federal Reserve for 10 years in the cash department, receiving and processing deposits from banks.

Collin sat down with Witthoft for an episode of Liz Collin Reports to discuss his termination from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“I loved my job and everything about it … I learned to love these people as my family,” Witthoft said.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis supervises commercial banks, runs audits, stores currency, and processes transactions. It’s one of 12 banks in the Federal Reserve System.

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve instituted the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August. Witthoft submitted a religious exemption, which was approved, and agreed to weekly testing, masking, and eliminating his use of the cafeteria and gym.

“These people respect my views,” he thought when his request was recognized and granted.

But then December rolled around, and Witthoft received a call from HR. He was told the organization couldn’t “accommodate” his needs anymore, and that it would be “an undue hardship” to the bank to keep him employed. The bank claimed that in Witthoft’s role, he was in contact with too many people to be considered safe.

He had two weeks to get vaccinated, which he did not do — he was consequently fired.

“I walked out (on my last day), and everything that I had was revoked … I had another individual walk me around and just get my stuff out of my locker,” Witthoft said.

James Dickey, a senior trial counsel with the Upper Midwest Law Center, said Witthoft’s experience is not the first like it. Additionally, Witthoft was denied unemployment benefits when he first filed for unemployment.

Witthoft brought the case to Dickey, and a judge ruled in Witthoft’s favor earlier this month by granting him unemployment benefits.

“Regardless of whether it’s a government entity or a private employer, these folks, Ryan included, still have religious liberty rights, and that’s what the federal Civil Rights Act ensures,” Dickey said.

Witthoft tried everything to stay employed at the Federal Reserve before he was fired; he looked for a different position with the bank that would allow him to be appropriately social distanced, but they were unwilling to work with Witthoft.

In a statement to Alpha News, a spokesperson with the bank said it cannot “comment on individual employment matters.”

“Consistent with applicable law, the bank provides reasonable accommodations to employees with a medical condition or sincerely held religious belief that precludes them from becoming vaccinated, as long as an accommodation does not present an undue hardship including health and safety risks,” the statement continued.

Dickey pointed out that the vaccine had been available for eight months when the script was flipped, and Witthoft was deemed an “undue hardship.”

“It is discrimination. Period … What really matters is not what you say, not just your talk, but your walk. And the Fed’s walk does not indicate that they really care so much about religious liberty,” Dickey said.

An employee who had a 24-year career with the Minneapolis Federal Reserve was fired for the same reason. Rodney Maki’s religious exemption request was accepted last summer and then revoked in a similar manner to Witthoft’s.

The Upper Midwest Law Center is also working with Maki, who was denied unemployment benefits after leaving the bank, and filed a charge of discrimination on his behalf.

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