A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Maine health care workers who wanted to be exempt for religious reasons from the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate health care workers.

Nine unnamed workers initially sued Gov. Janet Mills and other state officials over Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August 2021, arguing that the state’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 trampled on their religious freedoms. The plaintiffs worked for MaineHealth, Genesis Healthcare, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and MaineGeneral Health.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jon Levy dismissed the case, saying that the workers failed to prove several claims, including that the COVID-19 vaccine requirement was different than any other vaccine requirement imposed on health care workers.

Levy also concluded that the mandate wasn’t discriminatory because it allowed medical exemptions but not religious exemptions, and that hospitals and state officials hadn’t conspired to deprive health care workers of their constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

“The plaintiffs’ contention that the hospital defendants’ expression of support for the rule following its adoption constitutes evidence of a civil conspiracy is implausible,” Levy said in the dismissal document.

The health care workers originally filed their lawsuit anonymously, citing fears for their safety.


The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion in November 2021 challenging the group’s right to anonymity. The newspapers, which were represented by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argued that the plaintiffs “alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public’s interest in open legal proceedings,” according to court documents.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled in July that the plaintiffs had to reveal their names in an amended complaint in order to continue the lawsuit. Seven of the nine original plaintiffs complied with the order.

Plaintiffs named in the dismissal document were Alicia Lowe, formerly an employee of MaineHealth; Debra Chalmers and Garth Berenyi, formerly of Genesis Health; Jennifer Barbalias, Natalie Salavarria and Adam Jones, formerly of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center; and Nicole Giroux, formerly of MaineGeneral Health.

Defendants in the lawsuit included Mills, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Jeanne Lambrew, head of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Mills’ office didn’t respond to a request for an interview Friday night.

Levy’s decision means health care workers in Maine still must be inoculated against coronavirus infection.

Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based conservative group that represented the plaintiffs, argued that Maine needs to offer a religious exemption because it offers a medical one. The rule treats people who seek a religious exemption less favorably, they said, and therefore violates their right to freely practice their religion.

The state argued that the two types of exemptions aren’t comparable and shouldn’t be viewed in the same way under the law. Maine stopped accepting religious and philosophical exemptions to all mandatory vaccines in order to protect people who could not get those shots because of their medical conditions. The Attorney General’s Office said that reasoning still applies.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate for workers, but many of Maine’s largest employers said they would still encourage or require their employees to get vaccinated.

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