Johnson v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. 21-cv-01161-STA-jay, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100082 (W.D. Tenn. June 8, 2023).

A federal judge ruled in favor of a meat and poultry company (the “Employer”) in an action brought by its former employee who alleged discrimination based on religion and disability. 


The Employer implemented a blanket COVID-19 vaccination policy that applied to its entire staff. When an employee claimed that they held sincere religious beliefs that precluded them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the Employer proposed an accommodation of one year of unpaid leave. The employee deemed the accommodation to be a punitive and discriminatory measure and sued the Employer under a state statute. 


The statute prohibited discriminatory practices in employment and was designed to be analyzed as a Title VII claim of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employee made a legally creative argument, stating that they experienced both religious discrimination and discrimination based on disability. This argument was based on the assertion that the employee’s refusal to receive the vaccine resulted in a lack of immunity, which then incentivized the Employer to discriminate against them. Additionally, the employee added that because the statute was designed to be analyzed as a Title VII claim, the Employer had the duty to accommodate such disability, even if the state statute, unlike the Title VII, did not prescribe such a duty. 


The court rejected all of the employee’s arguments, explaining that no discrimination took place since the vaccine mandate applied to the entire staff, regardless of factors such as race, religion, sex, and others. The court also explained that COVID-19 vaccine did not constitute a disability because mere impairment does not rise to the level of a disability, since a disability requires an impairment that limits one or more major life activities. Finally, the court rejected the employee’s argument that the Employer had to accommodate the employee, stating that merely because the statute needs to be analyzed like Title VII claims, does not mean a court can read additional requirements into it.