A verdict from the Federal District Court for South Texas – possibly the first ruling on a vaccination mandate – proves my legal skills are as good as ever.
Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all of our lives for more than a year, it has also raised a number of delicate legal issues that will preoccupy the courts and lawyers in the future.
I’ve used this column to address many of these, including whether employers could require employees to be vaccinated. My answer, based on my interpretation of existing state and federal laws and court precedents, was a qualified “yes”.
A verdict from Judge Lynn N. Hughes of the South Texas Federal District Court – arguably the first ruling on a vaccination mandate – proves my legal prowess is as sharp as ever.
The lawsuit, Jennifer Bridges et al. against the Houston Methodist Hospital, filed by 117 employees who opposed the health facility’s policy of “vaccinating or firing”. Plaintiffs alleged that they were wrongly dismissed for refusing to be vaccinated, that the hospital was violating the Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, that they were being forced to act as “human guinea pigs” and that the mandate from the Nuremberg Code after World War II because it matched the type of forced medical experiment used by the Germans during the Holocaust.
Judge Hughes dismissed the case and dismissed the plaintiff’s arguments in a damning five-page statement. When he denied the wrongful termination claim because Texas, like Ohio, is a freely selectable employment state, he wrote:
“[Jennifer] Bridges is free to choose to accept or decline a COVID-19 vaccine; However, if she refuses, she will simply have to work elsewhere. If an employee refuses an assignment, change of office, earlier start time, or other instruction, they can be duly dismissed. All employment involves restrictions on the employee’s behavior in return for his remuneration. That’s all part of the bargain. ”
He dismissed the EDCA’s complaint because the law “… does not apply at all to private employers like the hospital in this case. It does not offer a private opportunity to complain … ”
He scoffed at the claim that employees were being forced to act as human guinea pigs, stating that the hospital required the injection of an approved vaccine and would not conduct human testing, calling the Nuremberg Law invocation and Nazi comparisons medical Experiments “reprehensible”.
Finally, Judge Hughes noted that on May 28, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that employers can require all workers who physically enter a workplace to be vaccinated, as long as they take reasonable precautions under the Americans With Disabilities Act when necessary and / or Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts for workers who cannot be injected with the COVID-19 vaccine because of a disability or a genuine religious belief, unless the provision of the accommodation results in undue hardship on the employer.
Although the plaintiffs in Bridges v Houston Methodist vowed to appeal, I believe Judge Hughes’ well-founded judgment, Ohio, like Texas, is a freely selectable state of employment, and the EEOC’s new guidelines address the legal concerns of employers who request or are considering vaccination of their workers.
– Lawyer David Betras, Senior Partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., Leads the firm’s out-of-court activities and practices criminal defense law in both state and federal courts. He has been a lawyer for 35 years. Do you have a legal question that you would like to have answered here? Send it to [email protected].
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