An Iowa hospital employee fired after refusing a COVID-19 vaccine and demanding her employer pay her $17.2 million in silver dollar coins, in part for its face-mask requirement, has been awarded unemployment benefits.
State records indicate Lori D. Harper worked as a systems analyst for Mercy Medical Center from July 2015 until she was fired in October 2021. A month before her termination, Mercy’s president and chief executive officer had sent an email to all employees informing them they were required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15, though exemptions for medical or religious reasons would be considered.
On Sept. 19, Harper sent her employer a series of documents via certified mail. In those records, Harper informed Mercy she would “conditionally accept” the hospital’s offer “to be injected with the COVID-19” if the employer would first provide proof that the vaccine would be “entirely retrievable from, and also removable in its entirety, from my body, person and womanhood” after each shift that she worked.
Failure to do so, Harper stated in the documents, would be deemed an admission of personal liability for damages resulting from her termination. Harper didn’t respond to several subsequent requests to meet with management and was eventually suspended due to “unprofessional, insubordinate and unacceptable” conduct.
Management then reiterated a request to meet with Harper and reminded her she could either be vaccinated or apply for a medical or religious exemption. In response, Harper drafted a “Notice of Liability Regarding Trespass” and “Fee Schedule” and paid a process server to serve those documents on Mercy’s president and chief executive officer.
The “Fee Schedule” imposed a $10 million fee on Mercy for “unlawful termination,” a $2 million fee for “every trespass in my private matters,” a $2 million fee for “DNA copyright infringement,” and a half-million-dollar fee for “the unlawful request to wear a face covering” at work. Each fee, Harper said, was to be paid in “silver dollar coins convertible at the legal and lawful ratio prescribed by law of Federal Reserve notes to silver dollars.”
Days later, she billed Mercy for $17,250,000. She was subsequently fired.
At a recent hearing on her request for unemployment benefits, Harper submitted evidence of the demands she had made of Mercy and testified that because she has no legal or medical training, she does not know if it was even possible for Mercy to have medically removed the vaccine from her body after each shift that she worked.
Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno ruled that Mercy “may have had a valid reason to terminate Ms. Harper’s employment,” in part because of her “outlandish fee schedule demanding payment in silver dollar coins, and unscientific demand that the employer remove the COVID-19 vaccine from her body” after each shift. However, he said, the company did not participate in the hearing and had provided no evidence as to why it chose to fire Harper.
“Since the employer has not established misconduct, as is required by law, Ms. Harper is not disqualified for benefits,” Zeno ruled, reversing a previous decision by a fact-finder, and awarding her unemployment. “Ms. Harper was discharged from employment for no disqualifying reason.”
More unemployment decisions
Other Iowans whose unemployment-benefit requests recently went before a judge include:
Brennen Mefferd, who worked for BTX Iowa, also known as Biotech X-Ray, a mobile diagnostic imaging business that sends X-ray technicians into nursing homes. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, BTX imposed a vaccination requirement on employees, in part because of the high mortality rate of nursing homes residents infected with COVID-19, but it granted Mefferd’s subsequent request for a religious exemption.
In August 2021, according to state records, Mefferd was still unvaccinated and contracted COVID-19. After returning to work, he was exempted from COVID-19 testing for 90 days due to his previous infection. When the requirement was reimposed, according to state records, Mefferd refused to submit to testing and screening, claiming the chemical used to sterilize the swabs increased his risk of cancer. He was fired and subsequently applied for unemployment benefits.
Administrative Law Judge James E. Timberland recently denied Mefferd’s benefits claim, saying Mefferd had “seized on the notion that the chemical substance used to sterilize COVID-19 testing swabs, ethylene oxide, placed him at increased risk of cancer. Ethylene oxide is an FDA-approved sterilizing agent.” Timberland noted that about 50% of all sterile medical devices in the U.S. are sterilized with ethylene oxide.
Mary Weich, who was fired from REM Iowa Community Services where she worked as a program director responsible for training and supervising home health aides. She was fired after one of REM Iowa’s clients had a visit from his guardian who discovered the client had open sores and dried feces on his body, according to state records.
A subsequent investigation by REM Iowa concluded that there was an overall lack of cleanliness with regard to the company’s clients; a lack of available cleaning supplies; and numerous medication errors. REM Iowa concluded the staff had not been trained properly on how to safely and effectively perform their jobs. Weich was denied unemployment benefits.
Steve Gentner, who worked for Cardinal Health, a distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical products, until he was fired last October for refusing to follow a company policy requiring that he be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Gentner claimed a religious exemption, according to state records, but when his employer asked for documentation to support that claim, he provided a letter from the Catholic Church indicating that it recommended parishioners get the vaccine. As a result, Cardinal Health denied Gentner’s request for a religious exemption, but Gentner continued to refuse the vaccine.
An administrative law judge found that while Gentner’s claim of an exemption was unsupported by the church’s actual recommendation, a new law that was enacted last fall by the Iowa Legislature and governor “does not allow a vaccine refusal to be the basis for a denial of unemployment benefits.” Gentner was awarded benefits.
Connie Goddard, who worked for Mercy Health Services as a licensed practical nurse until last October, when she abandoned her job. In July 2021, Mercy instituted a vaccination policy that required COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff, although exemptions were allowed for religious or medical reasons. Goddard told her supervisor she did not intend to get the vaccine or request an exemption, according to state records.
In September, Goddard was still working for the hospital due to an extension in the deadline to comply with the vaccine policy. When she arrived for work the night of Sept. 26, she discovered she was assigned to the COVID-19 unit, became anxious and concluded she did not want to risk carrying the virus home to her family, according to state records. She left work without notifying any of the supervisors and never returned.
She later filed for unemployment benefits. Because her separation from work stemmed from a voluntary resignation through job abandonment, she was denied unemployment benefits.
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