Supreme Court denies appeal of AstraZeneca employee fired for refusing shot

She filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Dec. 18, 2023, stating that AstraZeneca fired her "because it refused to accommodate her sincerely held religious beliefs."

A sign for the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on a building in the Gärtuna industrial area in Södertälje, Sweden. (Mats Wiklund/Shutterstock)

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a former AstraZeneca sales manager who was denied unemployment benefits after the vaccine maker fired her for declining on religious grounds to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

The British–Swedish company AstraZeneca makes the Oxford–AstraZeneca SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, which is marketed under the names Covishield and Vaxzevria. The company also makes Esomeprazole, which is sold as Nexium, a medication that treats gastroesophageal reflux disease.

The company experienced adverse publicity in the West a year ago when AstraZeneca’s Chinese division president, Wang Lei, said the company aims to be a “patriotic” company in China that “loves the Communist Party.”

The nation’s highest court refused to grant the petition for certiorari, or review, in Goede v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP in an unsigned order on April 1. No justices dissented. The court did not explain its decision. The justices had considered the petition at their private conferences on Feb. 16 and March 28. For a petition to advance to the oral arguments stage, at least four of the nine justices must vote in favor of granting it.

The ruling leaves in place a June 2023 decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which upheld the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s determination that Tina Goede’s refusal of the vaccine was “employment misconduct” that rendered her ineligible for unemployment benefits. The state appeals court decision was affirmed by the Minnesota Supreme Court in September 2023.

Ms. Goede filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Dec. 18, 2023, stating that AstraZeneca fired her “because it refused to accommodate her sincerely held religious beliefs, and she refused to compromise those beliefs by taking a COVID-19 vaccine which she believes was developed using aborted fetal cells … and which she also believes is harmful to her body, which she believes is a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.’”

She considers herself a pro-life Catholic who believes that “abortion is the murder of an unborn child, and, therefore, she cannot, in good conscience, receive a medical intervention tested on or developed using cell lines from an aborted fetus without being complicit in sin.”

Ms. Goede said she has retained these beliefs for 20 years. For 10 years, “she has researched medical interventions she considers receiving and routinely verifies whether they involve materials derived from abortion before receiving them.”

She stopped taking over-the-counter painkillers a decade ago because she came to believe that “they were tested on cell lines from an aborted fetus.” She testified that “she would only ever use a substance tested on or derived from aborted fetal-cell lines to prevent her death,” the petition states.

Claim for benefits is denied

When Ms. Goede sought unemployment benefits, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which is also a respondent in the Supreme Court proceeding, “wrongfully” denied her claim for benefits, according to the document.

She made clear her religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine and her First Amendment rights throughout the administrative and court proceedings. In front of the department’s unemployment law judge, she said she could not receive the vaccination because of her religious principles. But despite this, the judge ruled against her.

Ms. Goede appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, claiming that the denial of benefits ran afoul of her First Amendment rights. The court affirmed the judge’s ruling, rejecting her First Amendment arguments. She appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but it rejected her petition.

On Jan. 12, AstraZeneca waived its right to respond to the petition, but on Feb. 23, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, filed a brief on behalf of the department opposing the petition.

“In her petition, Ms. Goede primarily objects to the misapplication of settled law and does not otherwise present compelling reasons for this Court to review this case. Even if she had presented compelling reasons, this case would be a poor vehicle to develop First Amendment jurisprudence,” the brief reads.

The department noted that Ms. Goede’s employment with AstraZeneca took place during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, the company implemented a policy requiring its employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but Ms. Goede refused to comply.

She testified that some hospitals or clinics maintained a vaccination requirement for vendors, including one of the larger health systems in Minnesota, so she could not attend at their facilities because she was not vaccinated, even though her job responsibilities required visiting hospitals and clinics.

Ms. Goede asked the company to exempt her from the policy, but the request was denied, and she was removed from her position in April 2022. The department took the position that the vaccination policy was reasonable and that her failure to abide by it constituted employment misconduct, according to the brief.

The unemployment law judge asked her detailed questions about her beliefs and religion, and she testified that her priest urged her not to get vaccinated. She said she would never accept the vaccine regardless of how it was developed “because the vaccine doesn’t work.”

The judge held that Ms. Goede did not possess “a sincerely held religious belief that prevents her from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and that it was not credible that she had such a sincerely held religious belief,” according to the brief.

The judge found that she “declined to be vaccinated because of a lack of trust and not because of a religious belief.” The company had a right to expect its employees to receive the vaccine, and her refusal to do so was “a serious violation of her employer’s reasonable expectations.”

Because applicants for unemployment benefits who are fired for employment misconduct are not eligible for those benefits under state law, the judge found Ms. Goede was ineligible.

“No compelling reasons warrant review” by the Supreme Court, the department stated.


Matthew Vadum | The Epoch Times

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist.