Religious intolerance

The Federal Reserve’s imprudent firing of a long-time employee sparks a lawsuit about religious freedom.

After serving the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis for nearly 24 years, Officer Rodney Maki is suing his former employer for religious discrimination. He was fired in January 2022 for failing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“They said you’ll have a choice, either get the vaccination or you’ll be fired. You’ll be terminated,” Maki told Alpha News.

Each of the three vaccines offered to him at the time — Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna/NIAID — involved the use of aborted fetal cells in their manufacturing or testing, according to the lawsuit. As a Catholic, Maki felt it would be “morally unacceptable” to receive a vaccine “that has used cell lines from living persons, killed by the harvest of their organs for use in medical research and production processes,” according to his request for accommodation.

At first, the Fed accommodated Maki’s exemption, provided that he wear a mask, practice social distancing, did not eat in the cafeteria, and did not use the onsite fitness center. But when other employees started returning to the office after working remotely, the Fed revoked his temporary exemption, arguing that accommodating him would create an “undue hardship.”

After asking about other employment opportunities, including a switch to the night shift, and questioning the reasons for ending his exemption, Maki was placed on unpaid leave and then terminated in January 2022. As an instrumentality of the federal government, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is subject to both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, both of which protect employees against religious discrimination. Title VII requires employers to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs as long as doing so does not create an “undue hardship,” as the Fed claimed.

The employer also has a duty to follow an “interactive process” with the employee to find possible alternative positions or accommodations, which Maki argues the Fed failed to do. Email exchanges show vague responses from Fed leadership to Maki’s questions and proposed solutions, all of which were eventually denied.

Just weeks after his termination, the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC), a nonprofit, public interest law firm, filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Maki’s behalf. Once the EEOC granted him the “right to sue,” UMLC filed a federal complaint against the Fed, citing Maki’s rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“The Bank’s termination of Maki was intentional discrimination, with malice and reckless indifference to Maki’s rights,” the lawsuit states. “Because Maki’s religious beliefs prevented his receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, the Bank’s Vaccine Policy imposed on Maki the choice between violating his religious beliefs or else being terminated and losing his livelihood.”

Now Maki awaits the Federal Reserve Bank’s response and a court date. He’s seeking reinstatement at his former job, monetary damages, and a declaration from the Court that the Fed violated his religious freedom.

“If there is one attribute that Officer Maki exemplifies, it is faithfulness,” says James Dickey, Senior Trial Counsel for UMLC. “He faithfully served the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis for nearly 24 years. He remained faithful to his religious convictions as well, and he stood up for what he believes to be right. The Bank discarded his faithful service in support of an ideological position that never had a solid scientific basis. We expect the Court, and eventually a jury, to recognize that this religious discrimination is wrong and compensate Officer Maki for the harm he has suffered.”