A federal jury has determined a woman who was fired for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine mandated by her employer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, is due a settlement worth almost $700,000.

The jury found that Tanja Benton ‘proved by a preponderance of the evidence” that her refusal to get the shot “was based on a sincerely-held religious belief.”

Benton worked at BCBST from 2005 through November of 2022, primarily as a bio statistical research scientist.

Her federal lawsuit said it was not a part of Benton’s job to regularly come into contact with people, saying she had a portfolio of 10 to 12 clients each year, with whom she only interacted with infrequently, and sometimes not in person. It also pointed out that Benton never came into contact with any patients as part of her job.

Like many others, the pandemic changed Benton’s job. She says she worked from home for the next year and a half, without any complaints.

But when BCBST announced it would require COVID-19 vaccines for all employees, she refused, saying in her lawsuit that she

…firmly believes, based upon personal research, that all COVID-19 vaccines are derived from aborted fetus cell lines.

Because of that, Benton’s lawsuit said she

..cannot in good conscience consume the vaccine, which would not only defile her body but also anger and dishonor God.

Benton submitted a request for a religious exemption to BCBST’s vaccine mandate. But BCBST denied her request, saying she could not continue her job as a bio statistical research scientist.

Benton appealed, saying she did not interact with people during the course of her work day, and a company representative responded that “there are no exceptions” for anyone who has Benton’s job title, and suggested she apply for a different job.

BCBST ultimately fired Benton, and she filed the federal lawsuit.

Earlier, BCBST sent us this statement regarding Benton’s case:

The vaccine requirement was the best decision for the health and safety of our employees and members – some of whom are the most vulnerable in the state – and our communities. We appreciate our former employees’ service to our members and communities throughout their time with BlueCross.

As part of its verdict, the federal jury awarded Benton $177,240 in back pay, $10,000 in compensatory damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $687,240.

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