A former nurse at PIH Health Hospital Whittier is suing her ex-employer, alleging she was discriminated against and then terminated in 2021 because she objected on religious grounds to being tested for the coronavirus.
Lilia Acevedo-Cosio’s Norwalk Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation. The 43-year-old Whittier woman seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction directing PIH not to engage in future discrimination against employees.
A PIH representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Thursday.
Acevedo-Cosio was hired by PIH in April 2004 and excelled over the years in case manager roles, earning significant respect and admiration from colleagues, according to the suit. She volunteered for overtime shifts and was given a raise in November 2018 that was about three times higher than those given others, according to the complaint.
Last August, the CEO of PIH said that all employees had to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 and those unvaccinated would have to wear an indication on their employment badge identifying their exemption status — a rule that also had the effect of singling out unvaccinated employees, the suit states.
All unvaccinated and partially unvaccinated workers were ordered to wear an N95 mask both in the hospital and in PIH clinical facilities, the suit states.
The prospect of having to get vaccinated, which Acevedo-Cosio objected to on religious grounds, caused her to have heart palpitations and anxiety attacks, so she want on medical leave in August, the suit states. Her religious exemption was approved insofar as having to take the vaccine, but she was still ordered to be tested and told that failing to comply would cause her to be removed from the work schedule and disciplined, according to the suit.
The next month, the hospital released a discipline procedure for unvaccinated employees that started with a written warning and could escalate to termination, the suit states. When Acevedo-Cosio returned from medical leave and the hospital staff was unsatisfied with her explanation regarding testing, she was placed on unpaid leave even though the hospital policy said discipline started with a written warning, according to her suit.
“For her own safety, plaintiff called security and was escorted out of PIH,” the suit states.
Acevedo-Cosio was then terminated on Nov. 15, according to the suit.