A Minnesota woman who objected to the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds can be denied unemployment benefits, the Court of Appeals ruled Monday.
Tina Goede worked as an account sales manager at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals until April 2022, when she was fired after being denied a religious exemption to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) rejected her application for unemployment benefits, a decision an unemployment law judge later upheld. However, DEED, a respondent in the case, later joined the Upper Midwest Law Center in asking the Court of Appeals to reverse the decision.
On Monday, the appellate court declined to do so, saying there were “inconsistencies in Goede’s testimony concerning her reasons for refusing to be vaccinated.”
“[W]e conclude that there is substantial evidence in this record to support the ULJ’s finding that Goede refused to be vaccinated not because of her religious beliefs, but because of her purely secular concern about safety and efficacy, namely that the vaccine ‘killed more people than it sav[ed]’ and ‘doesn’t work,’” the Court of Appeals said, finding that Goede engaged in “employment misconduct.”
“And, as such, we further conclude that the ULJ’s decision that she was ineligible for unemployment benefits does not violate Goede’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause.”
Goede testified that she is Catholic, attends weekly mass, and objects to using vaccines that are developed using cell lines from aborted babies.
“I’m pro-life so that goes along with that, so any aborted tissues, anything that is utilized with any of the vaccines, I will not use,” she said, according to a court transcript.
James Dickey of the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) said they plan to appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, noting that they have won four out of five unemployment cases related to vaccine policies before the Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of two of UMLC’s clients Monday.
“These decisions affirm that where employers have policies that contradict religious beliefs, and people of faith stick to their beliefs even while getting fired, the state can’t deny them the ‘soft landing’ that unemployment insurance was designed to provide. In Ms. Goede’s case, we think the Court of Appeals simply got it wrong, and we will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Dickey said in a press release.
Goede has also brought a separate federal lawsuit against AstraZeneca for illegal termination.
“Defendant unlawfully compelled Ms. Goede to choose between keeping her employment and violating her sincerely held religious beliefs,” that lawsuit says.
The Upper Midwest Law Center has filed nine lawsuits on behalf of employees who were terminated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. Dickey said free exercise protections for employees have been “well-established” by multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings.