Is vegan-ism a moral and ethical belief or a social philosophy or dietary preference, and what does this question have to do with disability, health and leave management at work?

It starts with the flu and, in particular, a hospital’s requirement that all employees get a flu shot. Some health care employers have such a requirement to protect their patients. A customer service representative refused the vaccine because she is a vegan and the vaccine was grown in chicken eggs. She also claimed that the hospital could accommodate her by not requiring her to get the vaccine, as it had done in the past.

The hospital terminated her employment and she sued, claiming that because her vegan practices were a "moral and ethical belief which is sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views," her termination was religious discrimination. She submitted an essay entitled "The Biblical Basis of Vegan-ism" in support of her argument.

The federal district court in Ohio denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss the religious discrimination claims but told the hospital the evidence it would need to justify its mandatory vaccination program. The relevant evidence would be the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s contact with patients and of the risk her refusal would pose, the court said.Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, (S.D. Ohio, December 27, 2012).

This case brings back memories of the 1996 California case in which the EEOC regional office determined that a vegetarian bus driver fired for refusing to hand out free hamburger coupons to passengers was discriminated against on the basis of religion. The defendant paid $50,000 to the bus driver to settle that case.