- A federal district court dismissed a suit by a group of healthcare workers to block their employer's COVID-19 vaccination requirement (Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, No. 4:21-cv-01774 (S.D. Texas June 12, 2021)).
- The lead plaintiff in the case, together with 116 other employees of a Texas hospital, alleged that their employer unlawfully forced them to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and that, should they be fired for refusing to get vaccinated, they would be wrongfully terminated. Among other claims, the plaintiffs alleged the hospital violated federal law by "forcing its employees to participate in a human trial because no currently-available vaccine has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration."
- The court said the wrongful termination claim failed because the plaintiffs could not show that, under Texas law, the hospital had forced them to commit an illegal act. Additionally, the hospital's employees were not participants in a human trial, and federal law governing emergency use authorization granted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "does not apply at all" to private employers, the court said. The plaintiffs have appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision is perhaps one of the most significant to come down from federal courts as U.S. employers work toward vaccination goals. As of June 20, more than half of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data analysis from online research platform Our World in Data, while 45% have been fully vaccinated.
In recent weeks, federal agencies have provided more detailed information for employers on the subject. Near the end of May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its technical assistance to state that employers may issue policies requiring all employees who physically enter a workplace to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. However, such policies must comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the agency said.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all healthcare personnel get vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that such personnel are at an increased risk of infection by providing care to those infected with COVID-19.
In Bridges, the court noted that the lead plaintiff was not coerced despite her allegation that the hospital forced her to be vaccinated or be fired. "Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus," the court said. "[The lead plaintiff] can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work elsewhere."
A survey of employers published in May by management-side firm Fisher Phillips showed 83% of respondents were not considering vaccination mandates, although 75% said they were encouraging workers to get vaccinated. Nearly one-third of those not mandating vaccination said they made that decision to avoid running afoul of anti-discrimination laws.