SSA vaccine suit heads to federal court

Employees fear death, committing sin if they take COVID vaccine.

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The SSA filed to remove the suit by anti-vaxx employees from the superior court to the U.S. District Court. — Josephine Brennan

The lawsuit brought against the Steamship Authority’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is headed to federal court.

The group of employees filed the 129-page lawsuit last week in Barnstable County Superior Court, alleging the SSA was infringing on their First Amendment rights, as they relate to religious freedom. The lawsuit outlines the group of 11 employees opposing the “one-size-fit-all” medical mandates and instead willing to use other preventive measures such as weekly testing and masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The SSA filed to remove the case from the superior court to the U.S. District Court. The case had been scheduled for a hearing on the injunction sought by the employees to block their termination, but that was preempted by the SSA’s legal maneuver. A superior court judge imposed an emergency restraining order last Friday.

“This court has federal jurisdiction over this case because the plaintiffs have alleged ‘a violation of the First Amendment, as applied to states and their political subdivisions under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution…,” the SSA’s motion to move the case to federal court states in part.

The case was on the SSA’s board of directors agenda Tuesday. SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll declined to comment on the case’s transition to federal court and said no vote was taken during the board’s executive session. 

The plaintiffs, dubbed the Steamship Employees for Medical Freedom, are listed in the lawsuit as Captain Albert Brox, Kim Fernandes, James Bondarek, Andrea Sheedy, Paul Menton, Christopher Ovaska, Mark Anderson, Timothy Richardson, Steven Ennis, Sonia Simoneau, and Jeffrey D’Amario. The plaintiffs hold a wide variety of jobs such as captain, purser, parking lot cashier, terminal worker, oiler, ticket seller, and pilot.

The group is seeking $31,500 in lost wages and $150,000 in anticipated lost wages.

The suit gives the first window into how the SSA handled those who refused to get the vaccine. Employees were offered the option to resign or face a five-day suspension, then a 10-day suspension, and finally termination.

The lawsuit alleges that Brox, Fernandes, Bondarek, Sheedy, Menton, Ovaska, Anderson, Simoneau, Richardson, and Ennis are “Christians who adhere to the teachings of the Bible and are morally bound to follow the universal, consistent moral teaching of the Christian faith.”

It further states the plaintiffs are “devoted Christian people who sincerely believe the bible’s teachings and sincerely hold Christian beliefs that preclude them from taking the available COVID-19 vaccines.”

D’Amario, the other plaintiff named in the suit, is a practitioner of “nature worship,” which precludes him from taking the vaccine. 

“D’Amario practices nature worship, which has taught him to be skeptical of conventional practices regarding diet and allopathic medical treatments. D’Amario sincerely believes his worship of nature, his practice of vegetarianism, and his use of natural, homeopathic medicines and remedies keep him healthy,” the suit alleges.

The suit claims Ennis took the vaccine after being denied an exemption request and then suffered an “adverse neurological reaction” and is being treated by his physician.

Each employee’s exemption and accommodation requests were attached to the lawsuit, with requests citing personal religious beliefs.

In his exemption request, Richardson stated he is a Catholic.

“As a faithful Catholic opposed to abortion, I cannot, according to the church tenets on conscience, use any product that takes its origin in abortion,” his request reads.

Pope Francis has supported COVID-19 vaccines and last month said getting vaccinated against COVID-19 was a “moral obligation,” according to NPR.

Sheedy wrote she fears the vaccine. “I’m afraid it will kill me. God is the only one that can decide that,” Sheedy wrote.

Ovaska wrote that taking the vaccine would be a sin. “All of the COVID vaccines were manufactured and/or tested with animal products and aborted fetal tissue, it would be a sin to take the vaccine,” Ovaska wrote.

According to multiple government health websites, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells. Fetal cell lines, cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected in the 1970s and 1980s, do not contain any tissue from a fetus. Fetal cell lines are used in other medical technologies. 

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate was announced in early January and in less than a week the ferry service said it had compliance from 93 percent of the 511 full and part-time employees who are required to get the vaccine. The SSA’s workforce blossoms to more than 700 employees during the busy summer season.

Employees were required to get their first dose of the vaccine by Jan. 6. The deadline for full vaccination is coming up on Wednesday, Feb. 16. The mandate came with a $500 incentive for SSA employees to get the shots paid out of the ferry line’s general fund. Even employees who had already gotten the vaccine were eligible for the payout with part-time employees getting a prorated amount.

36 COMMENTS

  1. I’m all favor of a mandate covering everyone on vineyard.

    But, the MV Times “outing” Vineyarders feels a little dirty.
    Just because you can make a list of people’s religions , doesn’t mean you should.
    There are still those around that will attack someone based on their choice of religion.
    Even here.

    • We’re not outing anyone. The employees provided this information in a lawsuit that now is available on a publicly accessible database of federal court records. It’s their case.

  2. Several remarks:

    One of these said how his health practices as a “nature worshipper” kept him healthy (with copious details) and then upon denial that he had to see a (presumably) western medicine doctor for an unspecified neurological problem – I mean, I guess his own personal health care regimen couldn’t even take a rejection letter! He claims it as reasoning – it says all you need to know.

    Others discuss their Christianity. I don’t know if any are Catholic or care about the Church, but the Pope his Highness had encouraged vaccines. Get a new pope, I guess – the chief mouthpiece of Jesus on Earth knows less than they do, they are the true elect.

    Let’s look at the case, though, on a federal level. Have they ever heard of the Supreme Court? Well, I can tell them right here and right now, should they be reading, how the Supreme Court has ruled in these cases that deal with Federal mandates: they have turned down EVERY SINGLE CHALLENGE.

    Still, it’s in the nature of this country to sue for one’s rights and liberties should they feel they are genuinely being recycled by the tyranny of government (or in the case of the colonies, a monarch). In this case, it sounds like it’s about money, which is nothing new when it comes to Martha’s Vineyard. Their freedoms are no more abridged than when they received vaccines as a child or when they served in the armed forces and were required to have a number of vaccines, long before Covid.

    Life in a free country comes with responsibilities to the common good. That is why we are a “we, the people” and not “I, a person”. So much is lost in that confusion by so many.

    • My concern is ferries are a conveyance on which, like commercial jets, passengers must remain if there’s a problem.

    • Dean– we of course do not know what neurological issues the “nature worshiper” may have.
      But it’ s a pretty good bet that any treatment he receives will have some connection to fetal stem cell lines.

  3. Wow, just wow….I guess that these people don’t go to the doctor or the hospital if it’s against their religion
    ** People aren’t dropping dead in droves from the vaccine.
    I cannot write what I would really like to say because it will not get printed.
    I will say that if you can’t meet the requirements of your job, you should be terminated. If I can’t stand on my feet 8 hours a day or lift 40 pounds, I no longer have a job, it is a REQUIREMENT.

    Take the vaccine or not, I don’t care but if your job requires it, you must, otherwise find another one (job).

  4. I have to agree…. If the job requires you to be vaxxed then you have to get the jab. Sad that after all this time we’re still having to admonish folks to get vaccinated.

    I was a youngster at the time, but I wonder if there was this much push-back from the general public when the polio inoculations were being offered back in the early 50’s? Does anyone know? Could you enlighten the rest of us? Thanks !

    • Donna,
      I was very young then, but I remember the fear. not fear of the vaccine, but fear of the disease of polio. I went to school with two kids who were permanently crippled from that disease. Another friend has a shriveled chest from muscle wasting due to polio. I remember seeing an iron lung at MGH. I remember lakes that were closed to swimming. There was no cure.
      No, we did not fear the polio vaccine. Rather, we were eager to get it, and stood patiently in long lines waiting our turn. Our mothers and fathers were worried about our health. They cared about other people, too. That’s why, in due time, the government started requiring vaccines that could kill or maim for all children entering public school. This country used to care more about the common good.
      What is so hard about this? Millions of people have received the covid vaccine with no long lasting effects, but many others do have long lasting effects from covid-19 itself.
      Please get vaccinated, people.

  5. The Bible doesnt say anything about not taking the vaccine unless one wants to read something into a metaphor. In fact God gives us medicines to help us heal in thousands of ways. On the other hand to suggest that the Pope is ”the chief mouthpiece of Jesus on earth” is nonsense. These people dont want the vaccine for various reasons and some of them are using religion as a tactic that might pass muster in the courts. I support them because they should have a choice.

    • Matthew 22:15-22 “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

      Whose is the vaccine?

      • Mr Thomas before you start spouting verses you dont understand try to comprehend that the verse speaks about following LAWS as long as the LAW doesnt conflict with anything biblical. Last time I looked the vaccine is not mandated by LAW. It is not a law even though some of you on MV would love to have it be a law and have vaccine police rounding us up.

      • Mr Thomas, the verse you reference has to do with obeying LAWS that are rendered by Caesar. We should obey all laws as long as they do not conflict with Scripture. I dont think mandating Vaccines is yet a law from Caesar.

        • Even if you attended seminary (especially if), you don’t get a pass on that one. Lesson from Bible school: you don’t get to rewrite for your own convenience.

          • Neil– you know, some people think they actually have enough privilege to cherry pick the bible. Especially if they claim to know the true meaning of every verse, and belittle everyone else for not “understanding” the true meaning of them. There are not that many pages in the bible between the verse mandating death for those who work on the sabbath , Exodus 31:15
            “For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.”
            And Leviticus 20 :13 ” If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death;
            But some people choose to ignore one of these passages and point to the other as justification to discriminate.
            I may not understand every verse of the bible, but I understand that it is very convenient to hold the bible up , condemn who you want, and sin all you want because we are all sinners, and the all merciful god will only condemn the non believers to eternal suffering.

          • Neil– It seems appropriate to me to point out cherry picking with those examples– I’m sure andy works up a sweat while cooking bacon for breakfast and pork ribs for a social gathering regardless of the day of the week.
            How does he claim to be a biblical scholar and ignore inconvenient scripture ?

        • I don’t know, Andy– if you listen to the most popular republican senators and reps, you would think there are thousands of unvaxxed people being rounded up and put into secret internment camps.
          Or are they all just a bunch of hysterical Karens?

        • Material things come under Caesar (or society) and faith/spiritual under God. Curious how different denominations read scripture, or have it told to them.

          • Footnote: The use of material things can be guided by faith, using the Caesar or God rule to excuse not doing good stuff with material stuff in ones material life doesn’t score brownie points for your spiritual self.

    • Andy–Just a few days ago you posted this :
      Ms Diez, you have been telling many of us how to live and think and behave for many years. Only you know the truth about most things and offer an insidious gruel of left wing nonsense.

      Now you say that the deeply held religious belief of 1.2 billion Catholics is “nonsense”.
      Insidious gruel indeed.
      But I am encouraged that you are finally coming around to the idea that people should have a “choice” about what happens to their bodies.

      • What I said Keller if you read it carefully, is that the ”Pope being the chief mouthpiece of Jesus on earth” is nonsense. I said nothing about Catholics deeply held religious beliefs. As for cherry picking the Bible, the Old Testament is about Law and the New Testament is about Grace. Believers are not under the Law. We are not under Sinai, we are under Calvary.

        • Different wording by denominations. Law vs Grace. I’m equating Grace to be moral behavior toward others. Second greatest Commandment. Does that work for you?

  6. The bigger issue here is that the employees were notified on January 3 that they needed to be fully vaccinated by January 5 or face unpaid suspension and termination. Why did Ms. Kennefick wait so long to notify her employees? If the decision was made on Dec. 21, she waited two weeks (a vaccination period) to notify employees. Their reasons notwithstanding, there is something grossly out of joint with the HR practices of the SSA.

  7. Does anyone seriously wonder why antivax refuseniks have the reputation they deserve? These people sound like uninformed idiots, not to mention greedy, irresponsible mooches. Nature Boy cracks me up, using medical science to prove medical science is bad… in a court of law. I have as much respect for these phony baloney beliefs as they have for all the cancer patients, immune compromised, elderly, and babies they come in contact with, not to mention all the formerly healthy folks with long covid now. And since when do all SSA employees actually wear a mask or even pretend to enforce the mask mandate? Hope these selfish geniuses get exactly what they deserve.

    • good link to read, thank you.

      I also agree with your statement, masks on employees aboard the SSA are few and far between, (wearing it on your chin doesn’t count)
      As far as them enforcing masks? We are beyond that now, they decided long ago with their apathy towards the unmasked riders sending a message that they will not enforce the mandate.

      • Antivaxers are always yelling about “do the research” and yet they use misinformation to file a lawsuit. These people lack intelligence and sense, and so does their lawyer.

  8. The claim about aborted fetal tissue has been debunked long ago. These people need to stop denying real science and extract their heads from their nether region.
    Homeopathy is the air guitar of medicine. It does nothing. It is a scam.
    These same people have probably been vaccinated a number of times during their lives. Public schools require a vaccination schedule for children wishing to enroll.
    They all should be terminated if they refuse to comply. I am sure they can find work selling essential oils, or some other pyramid scheme that suits their vast knowledge of science.

  9. I don’t see that they are being forced to work on public transportation, they can hold their beliefs and choose different employment that doesn’t impact the public.

  10. It’s time for all other employers on the vineyard start mandating vaccines. Hard to believe the steamship authority is setting the bar here. It is obvious that the vineyard needs, wants, and supports mandates.
    Anyone involved with food on the island should be mandated immediately.

    On a side note.
    The Pope is not the leader of all religions. When I went to church as a child we never recognized the Pope. I don’t think most heretics could care less what the Pope thinks. Except, he does seem like a nice guy.

  11. David Barnes was a polio victim BEFORE the Salk vaccine became available.Dave looked like Charles Atlas from the waist up and had 7 year old legs He was killed in a plane crash in Boston harbor the pilot swam to safety David could not get his leg irons off and drowned EVERYONE i knew did what they had to do to get a shot and beat pohank the people who made and delivered COVID vaccine to MARTHAS VINEYARD i am sure they saved a lot of lives .

  12. This has been excellent reporting. The details of the ignorant, cowardly, selfish, and quackadoodle antivax excuses give insight as to why we still have so much late date stubbornness about doing the right thing, not only for one’s own self, but for the community. It should be noted that the other newspaper reported on this same story, but left out the details that this newspaper saw fit to report to a community where nearly all have no choice but to ride the ferry. The other newspaper has also not had a single comment under their article, as if this is a story of so little consequence to us that none of us bothered to react with a comment. Their lesson to us is about whitewashing, pretense, and squelching justified and real community reactions. I am grateful for this honest forum and the MVTimes. Martha’s Vineyard is not Fantasy Island, despite the dishonest agenda pushed at the other paper.

  13. thers a simple fact the majority of these folks railing against vaccines forget. You are only alive to rail, because were were vaccinated from measles, mumps, ruebella, small pox, etc. funny how quickly people forget common sense.

  14. Can we have a list of all of the employers with mandates on the island published?
    Would be nice to know which ones are safe and support safety.

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