On June 12, 2021, a federal judge entered an Order dismissing a hospital employee’s lawsuit attempting to block a hospital policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy on April 1, 2021, mandating that all employees receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines. The hospital eventually suspended 178 employees without pay for their refusal to get vaccinated. Jessica Bridges, along with 116 other hospital employees, brought suit to block the vaccine requirement and to overturn their suspensions and possible terminations.
At the beginning of 2021, there was much speculation throughout the country regarding whether or not employers could require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. In a previous article, Can Employers Require Employees to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine?, I indicated that the answer appeared to be yes, with some exceptions. Now U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes appears to have confirmed this through his dismissal of Bridge’s lawsuit.
Plaintiff’s argument opposing COVID-19 vaccine
Bridges sought to block the Hospital’s vaccine mandate arguing that the currently-available vaccines are experimental and dangerous, equating herself to a human guinea pig, and that the mandate violated public policy. However, Judge Hughes notes that
[o]n May 28, 2021 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that employers can require employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 subject to reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that preclude vaccination.”
Bridges also argued that the Hospital’s mandate violated federal statute and the Nuremberg Code. She equated the mandate and threat of termination to forced medical experimentation that occurred during the Holocaust. Judge Hughes dismissed these arguments, noting that neither the federal statute nor the Nuremberg Code apply to private employers and referring to Bridge’s Holocaust analogy as “reprehensible.”
Federal ruling in favor of employer
Judge Hughes concluded his Order clarifying that Bridges ultimately was never coerced; she had a choice:
She can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else.”
One can expect this rationale to continue to be used by courts across the country in any future similar lawsuits.