Former Nationals scout suing organization over 'discriminatory' vaccine-related firing

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

A former scout for the Washington Nationals is suing the organization, claiming they fired him over his refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Bernard 'Benny' Gallo, a California-based area scout for the Nationals since 2012, declined to comply with a vaccine mandate implemented by the Nationals in Aug. 2021, citing his religious objection. He was terminated by the club later that month after being denied a religious exemption and is now seeking to have his firing reversed, his employment reinstated, backpay rewarded as well as restitution for the "malicious deprivation of his rights," according to a press release announcing his legal action against the club.

"Gallo not only lost his livelihood and his life's passion of working as a baseball scout," the release reads, "but also his elected position as Vice President of the Southern California Scouts Association, a distinction awarded him by his industry peers."

According to a Sept. 2021 article from Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post, the Nationals notified all non-playing staff members on Aug. 14 of last season that they had two weeks to show proof of full vaccination or a first shot, or to file an exemption request. By Sept. 1, all unvaccinated employees were placed on two weeks of unpaid administrative leave while exemption requests were reviewed. The Nats told unvaccinated employees they could return to work if they received a first dose by Sept. 14.

Brad Holman and Larry Pardo, both minor league coaches who'd filed religious exemptions with the organization, were terminated on Sept. 15. Holman and Pardo later filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying in a joint statement that the Nationals violated their "rights to free expression and observation of their sincerely held religious beliefs." Litigation is still pending with their respective lawsuits, Dougherty reported on Wednesday.

A late-summer employee purge also led to the departure of longtime front office adviser Bob Boone, who'd been with the organization since its inaugural season in D.C. in 2005, and others. As many as eight scouts were told by the Nats their contracts would not be renewed, with at least two of those based on an unwillingness to comply with the organization's vaccine mandate, according to Dougherty.

"Receiving the COVID-19 vaccination would violate my sincerely held religious beliefs, practices and/or observances," Gallo wrote in his court filing, further specifying that, "in prayer I feel my Lord and Saviour is giving me the freedom to make a choice concerning MY body."

Gallo is being represented by Thomas More Society special counsel Charles LiMandri and Mark Myers of LiMandri & Joanna LLP, along with local counsel Rachel Rodriguez. The Thomas More Society describes itself as a national not-for-profit law firm "dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, religious liberty, and election integrity." Gallo has filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

LiMandri argues that the Nationals should have granted Gallo a medical exemption because he has already had COVID-19 and "therefore has the protective antibodies in his system." The filing includes a patient report showing an antibody test confirming natural immunity for Gallo, showing his antibody levels for the virus to be "consistent with those who were naturally immune, and possibly higher than antibody levels of those who had been vaccinated."

Gallo says he expressed his willingness to the organization to wear a mask in close quarters and indoor close contact and to be tested weekly.

In the filing, LiMandri notes that baseball players for the Nationals, while encouraged by the organization to become vaccinated, were not subject to the same vaccine mandate as the non-playing employees. He called the Nationals' denial of Gallo's request for a religious exemption both "discriminatory and unlawful."