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Judge dismisses suit against New York Fed over COVID-19 firings

FILE PHOTO: People walk by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the financial district of New York City, U.S., June 14, 2023. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit accusing the Federal Reserve Bank of New York of illegally firing two longtime employees who claimed religious objections in refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman in Manhattan ruled against Lori Gardner-Alfred and Jeanette Diaz, who spent a respective 35 years and 27 years at the New York Fed and had been senior executive specialists before their March 2022 dismissals.

The New York Fed began requiring COVID-19 vaccines for all employees in August 2021.

Gardner-Alfred, of the Bronx, New York, claimed she was a member of the Temple of Healing Spirit, which opposed the "invasive techniques."

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Diaz, of Bayonne, New Jersey, said she believed the vaccines were made with aborted fetal cells, and that being vaccinated was inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

But in a 52-page decision, Liman said the plaintiffs did not prove they had sincere religious objections to being vaccinated, and instead offered only their "say-so" on the issue.

Liman found no evidence Gardner-Alfred belonged to the Temple of Healing Spirit, followed its alleged practices, or opposed vaccines before the New York Fed dispute.

The judge said Diaz's belief about aborted fetal cells also appeared to have been new, and that she may have also had secular objections to vaccinations.

He cited Diaz's subscriptions to eight newsletters from anti-vaccination sources, and a December 2021 email to Gardner-Alfred where she anagrammed the letters in COVID-19 variants "Delta" and "Omicron" to spell "Media Control."

Liman said it would be an "extreme proposition" to grant an accommodation "whenever someone with a political objection to a rule wraps that objection in religious garb."

John Balestriere, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an email: "We respectfully disagree with Judge Liman's conclusions. We are discussing with our clients what their options are."

The New York Fed declined to comment.

The case is Gardner-Alfred et al v Federal Reserve Bank of New York, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-01585.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)