Federal judge upholds Houston hospital’s vaccine mandate.
By Nolan Barton
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Houston Methodist Hospital’s employees, who were opposing the hospital’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandate.
District Judge Lynn Hughes on June 12 upheld the hospital’s policy and deemed the contention of lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges that the vaccines are experimental and dangerous to be false and irrelevant.
“The public’s interest in having a hospital capable of caring for patients during a pandemic far outweighs protecting the vaccination preferences of 116 employees. The plaintiffs are not just jeopardizing their own health; they are jeopardizing the health of doctors, nurses, support staff, patients and their families,” Hughes wrote in a five-page decision.
He ruled that making vaccinations a condition of employment was not coercion and found that Bridges likening the vaccination requirement to the Nazis’ forced medical experimentation on prisoners at concentration camps during the Holocaust to be “reprehensible.”
“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,” Hughes wrote.
“Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else. If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired. Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for remuneration. That is all part of the bargain.”
The judge said Texas law only protected employees from being fired for refusing to commit an illegal act and that the requirement is consistent with public policy. (Related: RFK, Jr. to Rutgers President: COVID vaccine mandate violates federal law.)
Lawyer representing plaintiffs promises to appeal decision.
Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer representing Bridges and others, promised to appeal the decision.
“All of my clients continue to be committed to fighting this unjust policy,” Woodfill said in a statement. “What is shocking is that many of my clients were on the front line treating COVID-positive patients at Methodist Hospital during the height of the pandemic. As a result, many of them contracted COVID-19. As a thank you for their service and sacrifice, Methodist Hospital awards them a pink slip and sentences them to bankruptcy.”
Earlier this month, Houston Methodist suspended 178 employees without pay over their refusal to get vaccinated. The hospital set a June 7 deadline for employees to complete their vaccination.
“No one should be forced to put something into their body if they’re not comfortable with it,” said Bridges, a nurse who has worked at the hospital for more than six years.
“People trying to force you to put something into your body that you’re not comfortable with, in order to keep your job, is just insane. I’m not an anti-vax person. If you want to get it, by all means, get it. I don’t take that away from anybody. Just let everybody have a choice and the right to make their own decision.”
Bridges recently told ABC13 that she does not want to take the COVID-19 vaccine because it does not have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson only received emergency use authorization in the U.S. from the FDA. They will be allowed as long as the country remains in a state or emergency related to COVID-19, which will be until March 2022 under the current schedule.
Vaccine suppliers must submit six months’ worth of clinical data to the FDA for full approval, and the application to receive full approval often takes six months to review. Only Pfizer has applied for full approval so far.
Houston Methodist first employer to set COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
The federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in December 2020 that employers could legally set vaccine requirements for their workforce, with certain exceptions. In April, the Houston Methodist became the first in the U.S. to set a COVID-19 vaccine requirement among its staff.
“As health care workers we must do everything possible to keep our patients safe and at the center of everything we do,” said Houston Methodist President and CEO Marc Bloom in an email to employees. “By choosing to be vaccinated, you are leaders – showing our colleagues in health care what must be done to protect our patients, ourselves, our families and our communities.”
The hospital first told its administrative staff and new hires to get vaccinated by mid-April before extending the deadline to early June. It offered employees a $500 reward if they got vaccinated early on in the vaccine rollout. Two employees chose to leave the hospital instead of getting vaccinated.
In a June 15 memo, Bloom called the lawsuit frivolous and said it was pleased with the judge’s decision.
A total of 24,947 employees had complied with the vaccination requirement while 27 of the 178 others had received the first of a two-dose vaccine. They wouldn’t be fired if they would get the second dose. The rest are subject to termination. (Related: Over 100 Houston Methodist Hospital employees sue over covid vaccine “mandate.”)
According to Bloom, 285 other employees received medical or religious exemptions and 332 were deferred because they were pregnant or for some other reason.
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