A nurse who works for Los Angeles County is suing her employer and the Department of Public Health, alleging that the 16 months it took for her to get a religious exemption to the coronavirus vaccination has impacted her financially and emotionally.
Sylvia Salas’ Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges religious discrimination, retaliation and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation. Salas seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit brought Wednesday.
A county representative released a statement Friday regarding the suit.
“While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we want to underscore that L.A. County’s COVID-19 vaccination policy is intended to protect the health of employees and the public from a virus that has killed thousands of county residents,” the statement read.
Salas has worked for the county at various times dating back to 1990, has been a registered nurse since 1994 and holds a master’s degree in nursing, the suit states. In 2020-21, Salas worked as a public health nurse in the North Hollywood region, where she interacted often with patients, the suit states.
However, Salas was involuntarily transferred to the Department of Public Health’s Children’s Medical Services office in El Monte in December, where her patient involvement dropped significantly, the suit states. In August 2021, she sought a religious exemption from the county’s mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy, but she did not receive the release until December 2022, according to her suit.
“The county … purposely delayed as a means of opposition to either delay or never give plaintiff such an exemption,” the suit alleges.
Salas only received the exemption after constantly requesting it, according to the suit, which further states that the county has resisted talking with her in order to accommodate her religious beliefs. While awaiting the county’s decision, Salas, who makes $172,500 annually, was denied numerous work opportunities, including promotion, transfer and overtime opportunities, the suit states.
When Salas answered “no” to a county doctor’s inquiry about her vaccination status, the physician responded, “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you in the ICU,” the suit states.
Salas tested positive for COVID-19 in July 2020, recovered, was found to have developed antibodies that gave her immunity to the disease, according to the suit.
Salas, who underwent weekly testing, also was excluded from a county holiday party in December 2021 even though it was held outside, the suit states.
Salas’ current assignment involves management of children with disabilities, reviewing medical records and assessing medical coverage, even though her passion in nursing has always focused on patient interactions, teaching and advocacy, the suit states.
Salas has suffered lost benefits, income and future earnings and also experienced emotional distress due to the way she has been treated on the job, the suit states.