Covid vaccines don’t work and San Francisco discriminated against a handful of San Francisco firefighters, claims a recently filed lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed on June 13, is the latest gambit by a group of disgruntled firefighters aiming to justify their refusal to get vaccinated against city policy.
“It is scientifically irrefutable that current vaccines available do not prevent [the] spread of Omicron or Delta variants of the Covid virus and, in fact, might increase spread of the virus,” alleges the lawsuit, voicing claims that fly in the face of scientific consensus.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of 12 former and current San Francisco firefighters and alleges that they were discriminated against after being denied religious exemptions from Covid-19 vaccination requirements. The plaintiffs are asking for damages including monetary compensation and reinstatement.
The suit is the latest escalation in a months-long struggle between vaccination holdouts who fought to keep their jobs after the city enacted requirements last year that all employees get vaccinated, with limited exemptions for “sincerely held religious beliefs” or health-related issues. But a handful of recalcitrant workers, including roughly 15 firefighters, were denied their requests for exemptions and have been fighting the city ever since. Most have now exhausted their administrative options and since been separated from the department.
“It was interesting and there were a lot of moving parts,” said Danny Gracia, vice president of Local 798, of the drawn-out process that led to the current lawsuit. Gracia said the union, which represented firefighters through the disciplinary process, is not taking part in the new lawsuit.
The attorney representing the firefighters, Heather Gibson, claims in the filing that her clients have been discriminated against based on their religious beliefs or associations and that no accommodations were made by the city, such as ongoing testing or continuous masking.
One plaintiff, Jessica Lindsey, was allegedly “harrassed by other employees regarding her religious beliefs and her ancestry, and told by her superior, Chief Kircher, that he thought only ‘fat’ and ‘white’ people shared her beliefs.”
Another, Jessica Beers, said she had religious beliefs that barred her from being vaccinated but “she explained repeatedly that she ‘did not need permission’ to worship her God, nor did she need to prove her faith.”
Nowhere in the suit do the plaintiffs explain why their specific religions would bar them from being vaccinated, and Gibson did not respond to a call for comment on how the allegations about the vaccine’s effectiveness relates to the lawsuit.
Michael Kricken, a former firefighter whose name tops the plaintiff list, explained his position on the matter at an April 18 disciplinary hearing before the fire commission.
“God gave me natural immunity. That’s why I beat Covid the first time,” said Kricken, who noted that he contracted Covid in 2020 and still had antibodies as recently as two weeks before the hearing. “It’s my God-given right to decide what I put and what I don’t put in my body.”
When asked how the city went about deciding on Kricken’s claim, Lucy Chu, a fire department employee who reviewed religious exemptions, said she followed the city’s guidelines and consulted the city attorney’s office. Chu added that Kricken failed to answer any questions about his religious practices or provide evidence by a faith leader to explain why his religion barred him from vaccination.
“It was denied because there was insufficient evidence, there was not enough documentation to show a conflict between religious belief and vaccination requirement,” said Chu regarding her review of his exemption request.
While the suit alleges the plaintiffs were fired, the city maintains they were “separated” and can come back to work once they provide proof of vaccination. Of the fire department’s 1738 employees, 15 have refused vaccination and 13 of them have been separated while two await their separation hearings, according to the Fire Department.
The city attorney’s office has yet to be served the lawsuit, said spokesperson Jen Kwart.
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]