NORWALK — A former nurse at PIH Health Whittier Hospital who alleges she suffered discrimination and was later terminated in 2021 because of her religious objections to being tested for the coronavirus has responded to the hospital’s motion to dismiss her case, defending her stand and denying the facility’s claim she resigned.
Lilia Acevedo-Cosio’s Norwalk Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation. The 44-year-old Whittier woman seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction directing PIH not to engage in future discrimination against employees.
Hospital attorneys filed a motion for dismissal of the suit on June 12 in which they deny the nurse suffered discrimination. They say PIH “worked tirelessly to accommodate Acevedo-Cosio’s inexcusable refusal to simply test for COVID during the height of the pandemic,” forcing the hospital to accept her resignation.
But in a sworn declaration submitted Friday by Acevedo-Cosio’s attorney, the plaintiff says otherwise.
“My religious beliefs led me to oppose this sort of invasive testing, so I asked for a religious accommodation from the testing and included an attestation from my religious leader…,” Acevedo-Cosio says.
The plaintiff’s last and only time she received a coronavirus test was in 2021 or 2022 when traveling, she says.
“I had made the decision hastily, without sufficient consideration, and receiving this test caused me to feel distress, discomfort and guilt for having done so,” Acevedo-Cosio says.
That experience is part of what led the woman to “seriously and prayerfully consider how my religion applies to things like testing, just as hearing that PIH would be imposing mandatory vaccination led me to prayerfully consider and read my Bible to more consciously determine my convictions regarding that vaccination,” she says.
Acevedo-Cosio maintains the vaccine mandate created a “toxic environment” in which she had frequent heart palpitations and anxiety attacks.
“I had to take a leave of absence for my own mental and physical health,” according to Acevedo-Cosio, who further says she was granted a vaccination religious exemption in August 2021 on condition she undergo regular testing, even though vaccinated workers did not have to test unless they showed symptoms.
Acevedo-Cosio says she was actually terminated on Nov. 15, 2021, and did not resign. Two months earlier, she further says, she had a heated exchange with PIH directors in which there was subjected to “much yelling, agitation and hostility.”
“I asked for security to come to my office so that I could be safely escorted from my office and out of the building,” Acevedo-Cosio says. “I also wanted security to escort me out so that there would be a record that I had not simply abandoned my shift, since I suspected PIH would try to claim this…”
The plaintiff maintains her overall employment record since her 2004 hiring was stellar.
“My annual reviews were overflowing with praise,” she says. “There were zero disciplinary entries in my employment files for the entirety of the seven-plus year span and I rarely even called in sick.”
But according to hospital lawyers, PIH gave Acevedo-Cosio the chance to work remotely, which would not have required coronavirus testing, but the plaintiff refused the offer.
A hearing on the hospital’s dismissal motion is scheduled Aug. 24 before Judge Lee W. Tsao.