Tennessee woman awarded nearly $700K after being fired for refusing COVID-19 vaccine requirement

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A Tennessee woman who was fired from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) for refusing to comply with its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees has received a settlement worth nearly $700,000.

A federal jury found that Tanja Benton “proved by a preponderance of the evidence” that her decision to refuse the vaccine was based on a “sincerely held religious belief,” according to the settlement obtained by WTVC.

For a total of over $687,000, the jury awarded Benton more than $177,000 in back pay, $10,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Benton, who worked at BCBST from 2005 through November 2022 primarily as a bio statistical research scientist, said in her lawsuit that her job did not include regular contact with people, WTVC reported. She said she only interacted with 10 to 12 clients each year and sometimes those occasional interactions were not in person.

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The lawsuit also noted that Benton never had contact with patients as part of her job.

Benton said she worked from home for a year and a half during the pandemic, and didn’t have any complaints until BCBST announced employee vaccine requirements.

She refused to get the vaccine, purporting in her lawsuit that she “firmly believes, based upon personal research, that all COVID-19 vaccines are derived from aborted fetus cell lines.” Benton said she “cannot in good conscience” receive the vaccine because it “would not only defile her body but also anger and dishonor God.”

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Following BCBST’s announcement of a vaccine requirement, Benton submitted a request for a religious exemption, but the company denied it and told her she could not keep her job unless she complied.

Benton appealed and explained she did not come into contact with people at her job, but was allegedly told there are no exceptions for anyone with her job title. It was also suggested that she start looking for another job, according to the lawsuit.

BCBST ultimately fired Benton, which led her to file the federal lawsuit.

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“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,” BCBST previously told WTVC. “We appreciate our former employees’ service to our members and communities throughout their time with BlueCross.”

Fox News Digital reached out to BCBST, but did not hear back by time of publication.