Texas Court Tosses Employee Challenge to Vaccine Mandate

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A Texas federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by hospital employees who challenged their employer’s requirement that they receive the COVID-19 vaccine or be terminated, rejecting the argument that the requirement set the employees up for wrongful discharge.
 

On April 1, Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7, starting with the leadership and then inoculating the rest of the workers, all at its expense.

Jennifer Bridges and 116 other employees sued to block the requirement and the terminations. She argued that the hospital was unlawfully forcing its employees to be injected or be fired.

The hospital moved to dismiss, and U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes granted the motion.

Bridges told the court that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are experimental and dangerous.

“This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant,” Judge Hughes wrote. “Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker.”

Bridges did not specify what illegal act she refused to perform but did state that she did not want to be a “human guinea pig.”

“Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties,” the court stated. “She is refusing to accept inoculation that, in the hospital’s judgment, will make it safer for their workers and the patients in Methodist’s care.”

Bridges also argued that the injection requirement violated public policy, but Hughes noted that Texas does not recognize this exception to at-will employment.

Even “if it did, the injection requirement is consistent with public policy,” he added. “The Supreme Court has held that (a) involuntary quarantine for contagious diseases and (b) state-imposed requirements of mandatory vaccination do not violate due process.”

The court also referenced recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which states that employers can create such a vaccination requirement. While the guidance is not binding, “it is advice about the position one is likely to meet at the Commission,” Judge Hughes noted.

Turning to federal law, Bridges asked the court to declare that the injection requirement was invalid because no one can be mandated to receive “unapproved” medicines in emergencies.

However, she misconstrued the federal provisions that authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to introduce into interstate commerce medical products intended for use in an emergency, the court noted, which does not apply “at all” to private employers like the hospital and does not confer a private cause of action to sue.

Finally, the court threw up its hands at Bridges’ contention that the injection requirement ran afoul of the Nuremberg Code, likening the threat of termination to forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” the judge wrote. “Although her claims fail as a matter of law, it is also necessary to clarify that Bridges has not been coerced. Bridges says that she is being forced to be injected with a vaccine or be fired. This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer. Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else.”

The court granted the hospital’s motion to dismiss.

To read the order in Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, click here.

Why it matters: The court’s message was clear: The employer was well within its rights to establish a policy mandating that employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time or other directive, he may be properly fired,” the court wrote. “Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. That is all part of the bargain.”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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