Benton v. Bluecross Blueshield Of Tennessee, Inc.

On June 27, 2024, a jury awarded Tanja Benton $687,240 in damages. The jury found that BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee failed to accommodate her religious beliefs regarding the COVID-19 vaccination.

Case Background

The lawsuit was filed on May 16, 2022  by Plaintiff Tanja Benton  in the United States District Court, Tennessee State (Case number: 1:22cv118) and was presided over by the Judge Charles E Atchley, Jr and referred to Judge Susan K Lee. Tanja Benton, a Bio Statistical Research Scientist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, was terminated in November 2021. This followed the denial of her request for a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. She filed Religious discrimination lawsuit, citing her successful remote work and minimal client interaction.


Tanja Benton worked at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) from July 2005 to November 4, 2021. She served as a Bio Statistical Research Scientist since July 2007. Her role primarily involved independent work, with only about 1% of her time (approximately 25 hours annually) dedicated to client interactions. Benton’s client portfolio typically consisted of 10-12 clients. Most interactions were limited to one annual meeting lasting no more than two hours. She never worked in medical facilities where patients were treated. Many client meetings were conducted remotely via phone or video conference.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began on March 16, 2020, BCBST mandated that Benton work entirely from home. For 19 months, she successfully performed all job duties remotely without any complaints or issues. On August 27, 2021, BCBST implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees. Benton, due to her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding abortion and vaccines derived from fetal cell lines, requested a religious accommodation on September 15, 2021. She asked to continue working remotely without vaccination.

BCBST denied her accommodation request on September 27, 2021, claiming that “regular external public-facing interactions” were an essential job function, despite Benton’s explanations to the contrary. The company offered a 30-day “Safe Harbor” period for Benton to find another position not subject to the vaccine mandate. However, BCBST provided no assistance in this search and required Benton to compete for any new positions. Shortly after Benton’s termination on November 4, 2021, BCBST extended the vaccine mandate to all positions, eliminating any potential for accommodation through job transfer.


As a consequence of BCBST’s actions, Benton lost her long-standing career as a Bio Statistical Research Scientist. She was forced out of a position she had competently held for over 16 years, including 19 months of fully remote work during the pandemic. BCBST’s refusal to accommodate her religious beliefs by allowing continued remote work resulted in her termination, despite her demonstrated ability and willingness to perform her job duties remotely.


She requested back pay to cover all lost wages and benefits from the date of her termination on November 4, 2021. Benton also asked for front pay or reinstatement to her former position to address future lost earnings. She sought compensatory damages for the emotional distress, mental anguish, and other non-economic harms she experienced due to losing her job over her religious beliefs. Additionally, Benton requested punitive damages to deter BCBST and other employers from engaging in similar discriminatory conduct in the future.

She also asked the court to award her attorneys’ fees and legal costs associated with pursuing her claims. Furthermore, Benton sought injunctive relief, asking the court to order BCBST to re-employ her in an equivalent job with all the employment rights and benefits she would have been entitled to had she not been discharged. In the event reinstatement was not feasible, she requested front pay and benefits in lieu of reinstatement. Lastly, Benton asked for pre-judgment interest on her monetary damages.

Key Arguments and Proceedings

Legal representation

  • Plaintiff(s): Tanja Benton
    • Counsel for Plaintiff: Douglas S Hamill


  • Defendant(s): Bluecross Blueshield of Tennessee, Inc.
    • Counsel for Defendants: David Zeitlin | Joshua T Wood | Robert E Boston


Tanja Benton filed two primary claims against BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) in her lawsuit. First, she alleged that BCBST violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Benton asserted that BCBST discriminated against her on the basis of religion. They terminated her employment instead of allowing her to continue working remotely without vaccination. She argued that BCBST could not prove that accommodating her request would have caused undue hardship. This was especially relevant given her successful 19-month history of remote work during the pandemic. Benton contended that BCBST failed to engage in a good faith interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation as required by law.

In her second claim, Benton alleged that BCBST violated the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA). She asserted that the THRA incorporated federal standards for religious accommodation into state law, and that BCBST’s actions contravened state protections against religious discrimination in the workplace. By refusing to accommodate her religious beliefs and subsequently terminating her employment, Benton argued that BCBST violated her rights under Tennessee state law.


BCBST denied most of Benton’s allegations and presented its own version of events. The company asserted that it provided reasonable accommodations to Benton. These included a temporary period where she could work remotely and apply for non-public-facing positions. BCBST claimed that Benton’s job required regular client interactions. They argued that allowing her to remain unvaccinated posed an undue burden on its operations and business. The company denied that Benton had a sincerely held religious belief preventing her from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. They also disputed her claims about the vaccine’s derivation from fetal cell lines

BCBST argued that it made good-faith efforts to accommodate Benton and that her termination resulted from her choice to refuse vaccination, not religious discrimination. The company also stated that its company-wide vaccine mandate never went into effect due to a federal court injunction. BCBST denied violating Title VII or the Tennessee Human Rights Act and requested that the court dismiss Benton’s complaint with prejudice. The company sought to recover its costs and fees as the prevailing party under Tennessee law.

Jury Verdict

On June 27, 2024, the jury unanimously found that Benton had proven her refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination was based on a sincerely held religious belief. The jury determined that BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee had not offered a reasonable accommodation to Benton, nor had they proven they could not reasonably accommodate her religious beliefs without undue hardship. As a result, the jury awarded damages to Benton totaling $687,240. This amount included $177,240 in back pay damages, $10,000 in compensatory damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Court Documents:

Available upon Request