In one of the first cases on the issue since the COVID-19 pandemic began, on June 12, 2021, a federal judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit challenging Houston Methodist Hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.
In their complaint, the hospital employees alleged that they had been wrongfully terminated for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, in violation of public policy. The employees also sought to invalidate Houston Methodist’s mandatory vaccination policy by arguing that the policy violated federal law and coerced the plaintiffs to participate in a human trial of a dangerous and experimental vaccine.
The judge rejected the employee’s arguments, finding many of the employees’ allegations to be irrelevant or untrue—and slamming the employees’ attempt to analogize Houston Methodist’s vaccination policy to forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust. The judge specifically rejected the employees’ claim that they could not be forced to participate in a clinical trial while the COVID-19 vaccine was only in an emergency use authorization (EUA) status, noting that there was no clinical trial at play in the hospital and that the EUA status does not restrict a private employer’s ability to mandate the vaccine. Rather, the judge concluded that the employees can either accept the requirement and get vaccinated or find work elsewhere.
Although this case involved a private employer and thus is not directly applicable to public school districts, the Houston Methodist judge referenced the EEOC guidance on the subject (most recently updated on May 28, 2021), which indicates that employers can mandate the COVID-19 vaccine as long as they allow for religious and medical exemptions. We will continue to monitor this case, and public school districts may have further guidance if a decision is issued in a similar case involving students who are challenging Indiana University’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. In the meantime, school districts and non-public schools should consult with legal counsel if considering adopting any mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.
Source: Bridges, et al v. Houston Methodist Hospital et al, 4:21-cv-01774 (S.D. Tex June 12, 2021)