By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) —  Some Minnesota health care workers are suing over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Twenty employees of Northfield Hospital and Clinics, some with serious health concerns, have been fired for refusing the shot. They call it a “blanket denial” of their exemptions. It’s why their attorney believes this makes the case stand out.

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Monday was Robyn Hobmeier’s first day unemployed in her adult life after spending 14 years as a register nurse at Northfield Hospital.

“November of last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Hobmeier said.

A double mastectomy lead to an infection and a positive COVID case this past summer. The experience put her in the hospital for days.

“That was just one month after chemo, and I don’t want to put anything else in my body right now,” Hobmeier said.

But last month her employer denied both the medical and religious exemptions she submitted the same day, firing her last week.

Ellen Tichich is also suing her former employer. She was a clinical nurse educator for 13 years.

“I don’t have health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance. Plus, I was a year-and-a-half from retirement. I loved my job,” she told WCCO.

She survived a brain tumor in her late 20s.

“I lost my hearing in my right ear, and I had facial paralysis on the right side of my face,” she said.

Tichich worried about a rare vaccine side effect, Bell’s palsy or more facial paralysis.

“Everything I do and with and for my body is mine,” she said.

Tichich also submitted both exemptions.

“They were denied without any questions. They were denied without any conversation about my situation,” she said.

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Andrew Parker is the lead trial attorney on the case. Parker’s law firm has handled more than 100 similar cases involving other area hospitals.

He says what’s gone on here stands out.

“Most of those hospitals go through the interactive process. Often times they have much closer to a blanket grant of exemptions as opposed to a blanket denial,” he said.

“The Northfield Hospital is an outlier that has taken a draconian action against its employees that is in violation of the law,” Parker added.

Northfield Hospital and Clinics sent the following statement to WCCO:

“Our vaccination policy is consistent with emerging standards in healthcare across the U.S.

A multi-disciplinary review panel considered all requests and appeals for religious or medical exemptions. For each request, the panel considered the merit of the request, and the ability to accommodate an exemption.

Less than 3% of staff chose not to comply with the vaccination policy and were put on administrative leave, and then let go.

Health systems nationally are losing an average of 1-4% of staff due to vaccination requirements.

We stand by our vaccination policy. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing illness and spread of virus. Full vaccination of our staff is the best way to protect our patients, staff, and community.

We must do our best to protect the health of everyone that comes through our doors, and vaccination is an essential part of protecting those that trust us with their care.”

The 20 former employees are asking for compensation to cover lost pay, damage to their reputations and other emotional distress they say the mandate has caused.

The lawsuit states that all medical exemptions were denied and only one religious exemption was granted at the hospital and that was to a position that was difficult to fill.

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Liz Collin