Lawsuits by two former Valley Health employees claim the region’s largest medical services provider unfairly fired them in 2021 even after they sought religious exemptions from VH's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Lori Swartz and Douglas McDowell claim in separate but similar lawsuits filed against Valley Health System in Warren County Circuit Court in November and December that the region’s largest health care network discriminated against them by not granting exemptions from the employer’s vaccination mandate. Valley Health fired McDowell and Swartz, both of whom worked at Winchester Medical Center, in September 2021 for refusing to receive the vaccine.

Front Royal attorney E. Scott Lloyd represents McDowell and Swartz. Lloyd, a former Front Royal town councilman, was a vocal supporter of health care professionals who opposed Valley Health’s vaccination mandates in 2021.

Valley Health attorneys have asked in responsive pleadings that the court dismiss Swartz’ and McDowell’s lawsuits on the grounds that they failed to exhaust all administrative remedies and satisfy statutory prerequisites required before filing the complaint. Valley Health argues that the court should dismiss Swartz’ lawsuit because she filed the complaint Nov. 30, nine days after a statute of limitations expired. Valley Health argues that the court should dismiss McDowell’s case because his complaint relies in part on a Virginia Human Rights Act definition of religion that did not exist at the time of his request for the exemption or his termination.

Judge Daryl Funk held a Wednesday hearing on defense motions to change the venue for each lawsuit. The defense argued in support of the motion that Valley Health is located in Winchester, not Warren County. The plaintiffs objected to the motion to transfer the cases to Winchester Circuit Court, noting that Valley Health has medical offices in Warren County, roughly 24 miles from Valley Health's main office in Winchester.

Funk ordered that the cases be transferred to Winchester Circuit Court.

Swartz, a certified nurse assistant, worked for Valley Health from 1999 until her September 2021 termination in the pulmonary/renal unit of Winchester Medical Center. Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz announced by email that all employees must be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 1, 2021, with the first of the two-dose regimen received by Oct. 1. 

Employees could apply by Aug. 16 for a medical or religious exemption.

On Aug. 5, employees were alerted that the first-dose deadline moved up to Sept. 7. This memo reiterated the availability of exemptions.

Swartz filed a religious exemption request Aug. 10, stating in the request that COVID-19 testing and vaccines violated her religious beliefs.

“The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and as such, should not be used for medical experimentation,” Swartz states in her application. “It is against my faith to inject a DNA altering substance into my bloodstream; my Creator made me in His image.”

Swartz later referenced the use of aborted fetal cells in the development of all three vaccines available at the time, her complaint states. She says in her application that “it is against my belief to use recombinant RNA ... from aborted fetal cell line tissue because of the sanctity of life and the Law of the Old Testament.”

Swartz notes that she did not receive a religious exemption while many other employees did. She filed a complaint with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights on Sept. 16. The office advised in a Sept. 21 letter it had forwarded her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Valley Health terminated Swartz the next day. She received a notice of right to sue from the EEOC on Sept. 1, 2022, the complaint notes.

Swartz claims in her one-count complaint that Valley Health violated the Virginia Human Rights Act through religious discrimination by failing to accommodate her exemption and then firing her. Swartz seeks $150,000 in damages and requests a jury trial.

McDowell filed a similar lawsuit against Valley Health. McDowell, a registered nurse since 2008, worked at Winchester Medical Center from January 2021 in the Behavioral Health Unit until his September 24, 2021, termination. McDowell’s complaint states he had a religious objection to taking the vaccine so he used the procedure for requesting an accommodation.

“Valley Health denied Mr. McDowell’s accommodation and then fired him, although it accommodated others with similar religious beliefs and identical work responsibilities,” his complaint states. Valley Health denied his first request, which he filed Aug. 10, and a revised accommodation Aug. 15, the complaint states.

McDowell states in his written request for an exemption: “Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I have made my best possible discernment of truth and have come to the conclusion that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine is not in agreement with my deepest and most sincere religious beliefs and therefore request a religious exemption.”

McDowell notes that other employees received exemptions.

The complaint states that McDowell received a notice of right to sue from the EEOC on Sept. 13, 2022. McDowell also claims in his lawsuit that Valley Health violated the state human rights act by failing to grant him an accommodation religious exemption from the vaccine mandate. McDowell’s lawsuit also claims Valley Health violated the act through disparate treatment by treating him differently than other employees.

McDowell seeks $350,000 in damages and requests a jury trial.

– Contact Alex Bridges at

(4) comments


Ya'll just keep toeing that party line, a line with zero proof, zero linked studies from credible sources, and, at present, almost 7 MILLION dead worldwide, but 13 BILLION total vaccines given (remember, some countries require more shots than others).

Let's just remember, had we all stayed inside for two weeks when this ALL started, it would have been over. Ya'll didn't listen, YOU were lied to, and now we all suffer.

Let that thought keep you warm tonight, along with your hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, UV light, and bleach in an IV.

National Ways

The shots didn't stop transmission and can even cause serious side-effects. Why were these former employees forced to get them or lose their jobs?


[unsure][unsure] I feel sorry for these two ppl. They were lied to and led astray by faux news and bad legal advice. Now they have lost their professions, years of work/compensation, and will only walk away from this episode with resentment and more distrust.

Nothing good came from politicizing vaccines and shots - except more deaths.


Baseless suit and you will lose. Your attorney won't get rich off your backs after all.

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