The news story below was brought to our attention by one of our readers. No doubt, you will find it inspiring that a committed vegan stood up for principles he could not and would not compromise. As this case develops, we will endeavor to keep you updated.
Los Angeles Daily Journal Staff Writer
A computer technician who claims Kaiser Foundation Hospitals violated his civil rights by refusing to hire him because his vegan beliefs precluded him from getting a mumps vaccine has appealed a trial court's rejection of his claim that he suffered religious discrimination.
Jerold Daniel Friedman, 32, of Los Angeles, sued Kaiser last year after the hospital allegedly reneged on a March 1998 offer to hire him as a permanent employee in a Kaiser-owned warehouse in Downey where client pharmacies order their bulk drugs.
Friedman had worked at the warehouse as a contract employee for 10 months before Kaiser offered him the $48,800 job.
The employment deal fell apart two weeks later when Friedman, an "ethical vegan," learned that the mumps vaccine that Kaiser required him to take was cultivated in chicken embryos.
Ethical veganism requires adherents to respect all living beings equally and to avoid food, clothing and other products derived from the suffering or death of any "human or non-human animal."
According to his lawsuit, Friedman refused to take the vaccine but offered "to take any other alternative, in line with his beliefs, to comply with the spirit of the vaccine requirement."
"Egg-laying hens suffer greatly in chicken factory farms, and the use of unborn chickens to culture the mumps vaccine causes further unnecessary deaths," Friedman said.
Friedman suffered further horror when he learned in July 1999 that he had been unwittingly injected with bovine serum during a tuberculosis test that he believed was "Vegan friendly."
On April 10, 1998, Kaiser officials notified Friedman that he had failed the health screening part of his application and asked the temporary agency that Friedman worked for to reassign him, the lawsuit stated.
He filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Jan. 29, 1999, and was permitted to sue about a month later. Friedman v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, BC224249 (Los Angeles Super. Ct., amended complaint filed July 17, 2000).
To support the claims, Friedman's attorney, Scott D. Myer of Los Angeles, relied on a finding by San Diego's EEOC office supporting a Vegan bus driver who lost his job for refusing to hand out coupons for free Carl's Jr. hamburgers.
The EEOC ruled that the Orange County Transit Authority "failed to make any effort to reasonably accommodate [the driver]" and had, in fact, violated the driver's protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC defined religious practices to include "moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views."
For the past decade, Friedman has lived as a "strict Ethical Vegan,"meaning that he "fervently believes that all living beings must be valued equally and that it is immoral and unethical for humans to kill and exploit animals, even for food, clothing, and the testing of product safety," his complaint stated.
In keeping with his beliefs, Friedman eschews meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, or any other food that contains animal-derived ingredients. He does not wear leather, silk or any other material that comes from animals and avoids products such as household cleaners, soap or toothpaste that contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals.
"Plaintiff lives by a system of beliefs that requires him to value all living beings equally," the complaint stated. "These canons guide and direct his life in the same manner and with the same strength of traditionally held religious beliefs."
For that reason, Friedman's refusal to submit to the vaccine is protected under California Government Code Section 12940, the state equivalent of Title VII, Myer said.
"It's really a person who decides what a religion is, in terms of protection," Myer said. "We don't want to go back to the Dark Ages, where the state determines what a religion is."
Myer filed a notice of appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeal on May 7 to revive his client's claims of employment discrimination based on religion, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Los Angeles trial judge threw out the claims in March on Kaiser's demurrer. The hospital's attorneys declined to comment on the suit.
Friedman seeks $5 million for "back pay, front pay and other monetary relief" as well as unspecified general and noneconomic damages.
Reprint of article from Los Angeles Daily Journal, Tuesday, May 15, 2001, Page 2 Copyright 2001 Daily Journal Corp. Reprinted with permission.
Vegetarians in Paradise obtains
statement from Jerry Friedman.
"Ultimately, I was fired from Kaiser Permanente for not complying with an arbitrary policy. I have found no medical or legal reason to be required to take the mumps vaccine. Kaiser claimed to CBS news that the law requires them to vaccinate their employees, but the law does not (governing law, Title 22, requires a health screening and TB test, no mention of vaccines).
"Whenever someone has profoundly held moral values, employers must not force their staff to comply with an arbitrary policy in conflict. Policies should allow for exceptions, just as the law does, because every circumstance cannot be predicted.
"Ethical Veganism clearly fits into the State definition of religion, generally 'one's profoundly held moral values that take the place of traditionally-held religions.' Ethical Veganism is my guiding principle. Therefore, the purpose of my lawsuit, apart from recovery for injuries I suffered, is to allow other people with profoundly held moral values, vegans or not, to use laws that are already in effect to protect them from arbitrary discrimination even if their morality is not traditional, for I am against discrimination, not just the discrimination against traditional religions. The question should be, 'is the policy arbitrary,' not 'does the person believe like I do.'"
"Maybe you should also add that I'll be performing a wedding in Massachusetts next month as the clergy-equivalent for Ethical Vegans. The couple, both vegans, don't want to be married under a theistic religion, nor do they want to be married by the State, so they have asked me to perform the ceremony and Massachusetts approved my request on June 18. This is another example of the religious nature of profoundly held moral values.
"California is bound by law to recognize valid marriages in other states. They will recognize this marriage as it will be valid in Mass. Can they then refuse my religious discrimination claim and accept weddings performed by Ethical Vegan clergy?"
June 26, 2001