A Florida judge backs the PGA Tour in a job dispute over COVID testing and masking
A former reporter and producer argued that the golf tour’s COVID requirements violated her religious beliefs, but the judge has urged dismissal of the case.
An administrative law judge has rejected allegations that the PGA Tour improperly fired a former reporter and producer who objected to required COVID-19 testing and mask-wearing.
Teryn Gregson argued that the golf tour’s testing and mask requirements violated her religious beliefs and that she suffered “discrimination on the basis of religion” in the November 2021 firing, according to a document filed last month by her attorney. The tour required testing and masking for employees, such as Gregson, who declined to be vaccinated.
But Judge James H. Peterson III issued an 18-page recommended order July 19 that urged dismissal of the case.
The ultimate reason for petitioner’s (Gregson’s) termination was her violation of mandatory company health and safety policies that applied to employees regardless of religious background,” Peterson wrote. “Petitioner repeatedly refused to comply with PGA Tour’s mandatory masking and testing protocols applicable to all unvaccinated employees. That reason was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason supporting her termination.”
Under administrative law, Peterson’s recommendation will go to the Florida Commission on Human Relations for a final decision.
Gregson, whose firing received national media attention, was an on-air reporter and producer for PGA Tour Entertainment, based in St. Augustine. The job included traveling to tournaments to interview players and taking part in daily and weekly shows distributed on the tour’s website and social media, according to Peterson’s ruling.
After COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020, the tour shut down tournaments and employees worked remotely. After tournaments resumed, the tour established employee requirements such as regular testing and masking, Peterson wrote.
In August 2021, in anticipation of a return to in-person work, employees were asked to provide information to the tour’s human resources department about whether they were vaccinated. Unvaccinated employees faced requirements such as indoor masking and weekly testing, according to the ruling.
Gregson notified the human resources department in October 2021 that the protocols violated her religious beliefs and requested to be exempted or to be able to work remotely, Peterson wrote. Ultimately, Gregson and the tour could not reach an agreement, and she was fired.
The case, filed at the Commission on Human Relations, alleged the tour violated state and federal laws by not providing religious accommodations.
“The petitioner held, and continues to hold sincere religious beliefs precluding her from receiving any available COVID-19 vaccine, testing for COVID-19 when she does not show signs of illness, and covering her face with a mask,” Gregson’s attorney wrote in the document filed last month at the state Division of Administrative Hearings. “She informed the tour of her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding vaccination, testing and masking on numerous occasions.”
But Peterson wrote that Gregson “did not present enough evidence to show a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination based on religion.”
“In sum, petitioner did not demonstrate with credible evidence that the reason asserted by respondent for petitioner’s termination – her violation of mandatory health and safety protocols – was mere pretext for unlawful discrimination,” he wrote.