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COVID vaccine lawsuit against ABC's 'General Hospital' gets court date for wrongful dismissal over religious exemption
Christine Bartolucci/DISNEY via Getty Images

COVID vaccine lawsuit against ABC's 'General Hospital' gets court date for wrongful dismissal over religious exemption

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled that a lawsuit against ABC will go to trial after the network was accused of wrongfully dismissing two TV crew members who requested a COVID-19 vaccine exemption on religious grounds.

The father-son duo of James Wahl and Timothy Wahl sued ABC in 2021 after they were fired despite both having worked on the network's daytime serial "General Hospital" for more than a decade each. They ran the construction shop and special effects department for the show, which has been on the air for over 60 years.

The crew members asked for an exemption for the COVID-19 vaccination — which ABC had mandated — based on religious grounds, but the network fired them just one week after their request.

According to their original complaint, ABC "denied almost all such requests during 2021" and "gave no reason for its decision" while questioning the pair's sincerity in their religious belief. "These actions were unlawful. ABC does not have the authority to force a medical treatment on its employees against their will," the complaint read.

Judge Stephen I. Goorvitch denied ABC's motion to dismiss the suit, however, and said that "the jury, not the judge, must resolve whether Plaintiffs [the Wahls] had genuine religious beliefs."

The judge also questioned whether the Disney-owned network could have "reasonably accommodated [the Wahls] without posing an undue hardship," Variety reported.

In addition, Judge Goorvitch noted that despite ABC claiming it would have been unsafe for the unvaccinated crew members to work on the show, they would not be around other people for very long and were also put through routine testing.

"Defendant argues that Plaintiffs could not have been accommodated because they could not maintain a distance of six feet from others. Interpreting the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, however, they were only in close proximity to others for between 30 seconds to several minutes while Plaintiffs were masked and testing regularly and the people with whom they had contact were vaccinated."

The judge pointed to the fact that the defendant's own evidence suggested that the company felt the vaccines were highly effective, which raised the question as to whether or not the Wahls actually posed a risk to fellow employees.

ABC argued that the "highly contagious Delta variant of the virus was prevalent" at the time and thus a risk still existed.

The legal complaint stated that ABC/Disney had "ignored" previously upheld "policies and procedures" surrounding religious beliefs that the compoany said once went to great lengths to accommodate people's beliefs and medical conditions.

The Superior Court judge set the trial date for March 11, 2024. The case could set a landmark precedent if the Wahls are found to have been wrongfully dismissed.

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Andrew Chapados

Andrew Chapados

Andrew Chapados is a writer focusing on sports, culture, entertainment, gaming, and U.S. politics. The podcaster and former radio-broadcaster also served in the Canadian Armed Forces, which he confirms actually does exist.

@andrewsaystv →