MGM Sued by Ex-Aria Employee Over Vaxx Mandate, Claims Religious Exemption

Posted on: January 7, 2023, 06:18h. 

Last updated on: January 7, 2023, 06:30h.

Matthew Backes, a former food and beverage staffer at Aria Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, is suing his former employer. He alleges his civil rights were violated because he was terminated by refusing to take a coronavirus vaccine based on his “sincerely held Christian beliefs.”

Aria Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. A former employee brought a COVD-19 vaccine suit against the operator. (Image: Vegas Food & Fun)

Last October, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) granted Backes permission to pursue litigation against Aria, granting him 90 days to file a complaint on grounds his Title VII rights were violated by the integrated resort. Aria is operated by MGM Resorts International.

On August 16, 2021, MGM Resorts International (MRI) announced that all salaried employees and all new hires employed at any MRI subsidiary, including Aria, must be fully vaccinated from Covid-19 by October 15, 2021 (Vaccination Mandate). 13. Aria required all salaried employees and new hires who did not work exclusively from home to receive a Covid-19 vaccination by October 15, 2021. 14. Mr. Backes timely submitted his religious exemption (Religious Exemption) identifying his sincerely held Christian beliefs,” according to the complaint filed in federal court in the District of Nevada.

Backes started at Aria in June 2012 as an assistant beverage manager before being promoted to beverage manager. His LinkedIn profile indicates that over his more than decade of employment with MGM, he worked at several properties on the Strip, including Aria, Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand. He joined the Hilton Anatole in Dallas as senior food and beverage manager in March 2022 and remains in that role, according to LinkedIn.

For Backes, Mixed Outlook for Success in Aria Suit

In 2021 and into 2022, companies that were sued by former staffers that refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine largely found success in courtrooms. But last year, the tide started to shift, as it became clear that the coronavirus treatments don’t prevent those getting the jab from receiving or transmitting the virus.

Last August, the NorthShore University Health System in Illinois inked a $10.3 million settlement with former employees who were denied a religious exemption based on the system’s vaccine rules. Last October, a New York judge reinstated fired unvaccinated public workers with back pay, noting New York City’s vaccine mandate was arbitrary and violated the separation of powers doctrine.

Within the gaming industry, vaccine mandates were widely applied because of the heavy amount of in-person contact casino staffers encounter on a day-to-day basis. Plaintiffs have a mixed record in terms of vaccine-related litigation brought against gaming companies.

Specific to the Backes case, the judge is currently listed as Gloria Navarro. She was appointed to the US District Court of Nevada by President Barack Obama and took to the bench in May 2010.

Inside Backes’ Aria Suit

In the months following the reopening of Nevada casinos, MGM and other operators provided free COVID-19 testing. But as vaccines became more readily available, MGM instituted a mandatory vaccine policy and began requiring staffers who refused the experimental medication to pay $38 per week, or half the company’s costs for testing.

In the complaint, counsel for Backes argue that their client’s refusal to be vaccinated presented no averse circumstances to Aria because he would have continued masking and testing. The attorneys added the integrated resort had COVID-19 testing on site. They also claim Aria didn’t grant the requested religious exemption on flimsy grounds.

“Aria asserted that it could not grant the Religious Exemption because it would interfere with Mr. Backes’ guest and employee interactions, the same interactions non-salaried and/or non-vaccinated employees would face,” according to the complaint.

Aria’s vaccine mandate for salaried staff is no longer in place.

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