This story appears courtesy of MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.

More than 60 Ascension Michigan health care workers filed a federal lawsuit seeking to recover wages lost when they were suspended for not getting mandatory COVID vaccines and not complying with the health system’s 2021 policy.

The proposed class-action suit, filed in U.S. District Court Western District, alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when hospital leaders placed employees on “involuntary, indefinite, unpaid leave of absence” in November 2021 after denying their religious exemptions requests.

According to the suit, Ascension required its employees – but not independent contractors, vendors, temporary staff, patients or visitors – to be vaccinated by 5 p.m. Nov. 12, 2021. Failure to do so would be “deemed voluntary resignation,” the suit claimed.

The plaintiffs submitted religious accommodation requests, but Ascension denied the requests while approving some based on “pure favoritism,” the suit alleges.

When the November deadline hit, the plaintiffs were placed on unpaid suspensions, but after five weeks, some slowly returned to work when hospital leaders faced “legal challenges” and “staffing challenges,” the suit claims.

The plaintiffs allege they were told the vaccine suspension had been recalled, but many employees denied religious accommodations were not recalled to work, which the suit alleges was a way for the health care system to reduce headcount.

The COVID-19 mandates were not unique to Ascension as Henry Ford Health instituted a similar policy as did others throughout Michigan and the country.

In October, 400 Henry Ford health employees quit over the mandate, hospital leaders said at the time and NBC News reported in January that Mayo Clinic fired 700 workers who failed to comply with COVID mandates.

Ascension operates 16 hospitals, including a recovery center, in Michigan and numerous others across more than 20 states, according to its website.