SPANISH FORT, Ala. (WKRG) — Former employees of a retirement community filed a lawsuit claiming their religious freedoms were violated. The former Westminster Village employees say initially the company accepted their religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, but about a month later the decision changed and they were fired.

Katherine Howerin and Tina Wolfe said getting the COVID-19 vaccine goes against their religious beliefs, so when their workplace announced the requirement, they filed for a religious exemption.

Howerin worked at Westminster Village for eight years. When she was let go, she was the Director of Nursing. She explained her position meant that she did not have as close of contact with residents as other employees.

“My exemption was approved in the middle of September,” Howerin said. “And then October 7th, my administrator handed me a letter and basically rescinded the exception.”

Wolfe worked for Westminster Village for 12 years. At the time she was fired, she said she was the RN supervisor. Wolfe said, “I was shocked because I didn’t think they could do that. How can they tell us they can’t accept our exemption when they already did it.”

The pair told WKRG News 5 their last day at Westminster was in October. Now nearly a year later, they’re part of a larger group suing the company for damages with the same lawyer who’s handling a similar lawsuit for former Austal employees, Brian Dasinger.

“We feel like they need to be penalized for what they did,” said Dasinger. “For the particular cruelty of granting the exemptions and then turning around and denying them a month later.”

Dasinger says Westminster gave three reasons for denying the exemptions.

“[An] alarming rise in COVID-19 cases through the US, an alarming rise amongst staff and residents, and new information pertaining to the virus and vaccines,” explained Dasinger.

But he said he disproved all three claims. And bout a week ago, Howerin and Wolfe got a letter telling them they can reapply to the company.

“I didn’t sleep the night after we got that letter because it brought back all the emotions from the four or five months that we dealt with all of this. I mean it was kind of just a slap in the face Oh okay we let you go a year ago, but you can come back now we changed our minds,” said Howerin.

The women said they know they have a long road ahead, but they’re hopeful for the outcome of their case.

“If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, who else is going to?” said Wolfe.

“I feel like I have to stand up for what I believe in if no one else is going to do it,” said Katherine.

WKRG News 5 spoke with a spokesperson for Westminster Village’s parent company Acts Retirement-Life Communities and was sent the following statement:

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic Westminster Village sought to create the safest living and working environment for our residents and staff. As part of our processes, we implemented a vaccination mandate for all employees and considered the implications of declinations on the health and safety of our communities. As circumstances continue to evolve and the availability of treatments has increased, we have continued to evaluate our protocols and modified them as appropriate. Currently, the employee vaccination mandate remains in place, with accommodation made for those with approved religious and medical declinations.”

Michael Smith – Director of Corporate Communications

To read the full complaint filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama CLICK HERE.

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