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Former employee sues Scripps Research in La Jolla, alleging religious discrimination

Scripps Research is a medical research facility on North Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A former Scripps Research employee is suing the La Jolla science institution on allegations of religious discrimination after she was fired when she refused to get the company-mandated COVID-19 vaccination.

The suit, filed June 21 in San Diego County Superior Court, seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial for mental and emotional distress and loss of income and benefits, plus punitive damages and legal expenses.

Plaintiff Georgia Ringler was an events manager from January 2019 to September 2021. During that time, Scripps Research instituted a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy calling for all employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 15, 2021.

According to court filings, Ringler objected “that COVID-19 vaccines were developed or produced with aborted fetal cell lines. The prohibition against abortion has been a long-standing feature of Christian moral doctrine. Ringler [also] objected ... that COVID-19 vaccines had the potential to change or disrupt the body’s natural DNA. Ringler further objected ... that the ingredients of COVID-19 vaccines were unknown. Ringler invoked the Christian belief that the physical body is to be honored and not violated.”

Medical experts say fetal cell lines — cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected decades ago — were used during various stages of vaccine development and/or manufacturing, though none of the vaccines actually contains aborted fetal cells.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the vaccines do not change or interact with DNA in any way and that their ingredients are known (most are fats, sugars and salts found in many foods) and are not dangerous.

When Ringler had not received a COVID vaccination by the deadline, her employment was terminated.

The suit accuses Scripps Research of failing to work with Ringler to find an accommodation for her religious beliefs and practices.

“Instead, Scripps Research discriminated against Ringler because of her Christian religion,” the suit states. “Ringler was held to a different and higher standard than other employees. Whereas other employees, who were vaccinated, were allowed to continue employment and move freely in the workplace, even though they were capable of having and transmitting COVID-19, Ringler was not afforded the same treatment. Ringler was held to a standard of perfection (of never posing any risk of transmission to any employee), which no employee can ever meet.”

Scripps Research said in a statement to the La Jolla Light that “as a diverse institution that welcomes employees across all backgrounds and beliefs, Scripps Research does its utmost to foster an inclusive environment that is sensitive and respectful of all individuals, irrespective of their religious beliefs or other protected characteristics, consistent with applicable law and requirements. We are also highly committed to the health and safety of our campus, which has become a priority since the COVID-19 pandemic. Scripps Research is confident that it complied with the law, will vigorously defend this position and stands by its vaccination policy.”

Ringler told the Light that before the vaccination mandate, weekly testing and mask wearing were required at Scripps Research and she would have been willing to continue to submit to regular testing and other increased safety protocols as an alternative to getting vaccinated.

But, she alleged in a statement, “Scripps Research had no concern for my faith or religious convictions. I believe that if I objected to this mandate coming from a different protected community, the institute would have gone above and beyond to accommodate me.”

Speaking with the Light, she called the lawsuit “a last resort.”

“I loved my job,” she said. “This is not what I wanted at all. Losing my job has been sad, even depressing at times. I have anxiety thinking about moving forward with my career and looking for new jobs. I didn’t think it was actually going to happen.”

Her attorney, Los Angeles-based Arthur Kim, said: “Employment spaces have to be neutral and tolerant places. We need to preserve the essence of what America is, which is a diverse and tolerant society.” ◆