Exclusive: State fires DOC employee who approved vaccine exemptions, some officers have waivers rescinded

Sources tell Live Boston the Baker administration fired a Department of Correction employee who approved COVID-19 vaccination religious exemptions for correction officers, leading to some of those waivers being rescinded. The employee, who we’re not naming at this time, was terminated on October 7 for “failure to obey a direct order,” sources tell us.

The same day, Live Boston reached out to DOC spokesperson Jason Dobson for comment. Dobson acknowledged our inquiry, but has not responded to repeated requests for information since then. DOC Commissioner Carol Mici, as well as Sarah Finlaw and Terry MacCormack from the Governor’s press team, have also ignored our requests for comment.

Live Boston called a phone number listed on the state’s website for the DOC employee who was fired. A person who answered the phone said the employee no longer worked for the state, but didn’t elaborate. The person’s name was also scrubbed from the ‘Staff Directory’ page of the DOC’s website shortly after we started asking questions. Live Boston has learned more than 20 correction officers were originally granted religious exemptions, only to later be told the approval was an error and their request was denied.

As a result, the officers were placed on an unpaid five-day suspension, which is the first step in the disciplinary process for failing to comply with the Governor’s vaccine mandate. The officers face further discipline, up to and including termination, if they don’t get vaccinated.

The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, which represents 4,000 Massachusetts correction officers, has appealed a federal judge’s denial of an injunction to block the mandate, according to an update the union’s executive secretary, Corey Scafidi, sent to members Wednesday. He says the union’s attorneys are preparing another lawsuit to fight the order, adding the executive board “still feels that our case has merit.” As of Wednesday, 550 correction officers were still awaiting word on their medical and religious exemption requests. Close to three dozen members had already received letters saying they were being disciplined for non-compliance, Scafidi said.

“Said simply, Governor Baker’s administration can not make it up as they go without being challenged by this union, not when your religious and medical beliefs, your professional careers and your ability to provide for your families hangs in the balance,” Scafidi wrote. “The MCOFU Executive Board will continue to hold this administration accountable for the unimaginable treatment you now have to endure, or we will go down swinging in the process.”

Scafidi said Wednesday the union learned of a “handful” of positive COVID-19 cases through the testing of inmates, but noted the state has not forced vaccinations on inmates, vendors, visitors or attorneys who routinely come into the state’s prisons daily. “Wearing of masks, regular testing and isolating is what is being done by this administration, unless it relates to you,” he said.