Ranger sues after being fired for COVID-19 vaccination refusal

An ex Deception Pass State Park ranger is suing the state for firing him after refusing the vaccine.

A former park ranger who worked at Deception Pass State Park is suing the state for allegedly firing him because he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Benjamin Shook recently filed a complaint in Island County Superior Court for declamatory relief and damages against the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Shook, who is represented by Spokane Valley attorney Jung Hwang, claims State Parks violated a state discrimination law.

Shook asks to be compensated for financial losses. The claim states that he should have been placed on paid leave and should still be on paid leave.

The lawsuit notes that the park required, under Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation, that all employees be vaccinated by Oct. 18, 2021. It claims that Shook, an 18-year employee, sought and obtained an exemption from the vaccine requirement on religious basis but was nevertheless informed that he needed to be vaccinated or be fired.

The complaint states that State Parks “refused to accommodate, retaliated against, and subsequently terminated Mr. Shook because he asked for an accommodation for his sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Specifically, the claim states, Shook believed it was his religious duty to refuse “experimental vaccines that utilize human cell lines from products of abortion during any stage of the vaccine’s development, including the testing phase.”

While the COVID vaccines were not considered to be experimental and do not contain fetal tissue, cell lines developed from abortions in the 1970s were used in the testing or development of certain COVID-19 vaccines, according to the National Institute of Health and the Associated Press.

According to the lawsuit, Shook suggested an accommodation of “a self-evaluation questionnaire before work every day, social distancing and masking, and periodic testing at (his) own expense, all of which were the standard practice before the governor’s mandate.” State Parks, however, refused the accommodation, the lawsuits claims.

In addition to damages, the lawsuit asks for “declaratory relief that a faith-based person who cannot be vaccinated cannot unilaterally be deemed physically unfit for the park ranger profession.”

The state Attorney General’s Office has not yet filed an answer to the complaint. State Parks did not respond to a request for comment.