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Former Princeton employee files religious discrimination lawsuit against University for COVID-19 policies

Ex-employee alleges the University harassed and fired her due to her faith-based objections

<h5>On Tuesday, the administration released a memo detailing the most recent plans for “Spring 2022 Semester Campus Life or Something of the Sort.”</h5>
<h6><strong>“Nassau Hall Princeton” by Smallbones / </strong><a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nassau_Hall,_Princeton.jpg" target="_self"><strong>CC BY 1.0</strong></a></h6>
On Tuesday, the administration released a memo detailing the most recent plans for “Spring 2022 Semester Campus Life or Something of the Sort.”
“Nassau Hall Princeton” by Smallbones / CC BY 1.0

A former University budget analyst, Kate McKinley, filed a lawsuit against Princeton on the grounds of religious discrimination on Aug. 16. In the suit, McKinley alleges that University officials harassed and fired her due to her faith-based objections to the University’s COVID-19 policies.

McKinley first joined the University in May 2017. The University informed employees in June 2021 that COVID-19 vaccination would be required for continued employment. A month later, McKinley sought and was granted a religious accommodation to the policy, according to a brief she filed with the United States District Court for New Jersey. 

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McKinley then requested additional accommodations to University policy in August 2021, in the hopes of exemptions from mask-wearing, contact tracing, and saliva collection and testing. The University, at the time, required asymptomatic testing by all employees regardless of vaccination status. 

In early September 2021, the University denied her request. On or about Sept. 10, 2021, McKinley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the University. On Sept. 16, McKinley was terminated by the University.

In response to inquiries from the ‘Prince’ regarding the lawsuit, University Spokesperson Ayana Okoya said that Princeton “handled this former employee’s accommodation request fairly” and “in accordance with the applicable laws and internal policies.” 

McKinley has filed her suit with Vlasac & Shmaruk, LLC, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment on her behalf.

“We feel our client has a strong case as she was granted religious exemption to the vaccine policy, but denied accommodation for others,” McKinley’s attorney David Cassidy said in an interview with The Princeton Patch. “The University is taking a restrictive view with the policy.”

Cassidy also said in the interview with the Patch that the University did not take into account the fact that McKinley worked from home for 18 months.

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According to the suit, McKinley believes she faced religious discrimination and unlawful retaliation from the University, citing violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. 

McKinley claims in the suit that she complained to supervisors and spoke with her employer about the discrimination and harassment she faced, and that the University had “actual or constructive knowledge” of the ongoing discriminatory behavior and harassment. McKinley claims that the University failed to take “prompt and appropriate remedial action” to prevent or ensure that further discrimination and harassment did not take place.

McKinley is seeking restitution for “mental anguish and economic damages,” as well as to “compensate Plaintiff for harm to her professional and personal reputation and loss of career fulfillment.”

The University “intend[s] to defend the litigation vigorously and expect to vindicate our actions in court,” Okoya told the ‘Prince.’

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Brenden Garza is a staff reporter for the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at bg8077@princeton.edu or on Instagram @brenden.garza

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