A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Saturday that was brought by more than 100 Houston Methodist hospital workers challenging the hospital's policy mandating that every employee be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The ruling was the first of its kind in the United States.
What is the background?
A group of 117 Houston Methodist employees filed a lawsuit against their employer last month, arguing their policy requiring COVID-19 vaccination is unlawful.
The Washington Post reported:
They accuse the hospital system of violating state law, as well as federal public health law related to the use of medical products in emergencies, saying coronavirus vaccines have only been authorized for emergency use and therefore cannot be mandated. They want the court to issue an order barring Houston Methodist from terminating the unvaccinated employees.
Last week, the hospital made good on their promise to take action against unvaccinated employees, suspending 178 workers without pay for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
The suspended employees were given until June 21 to comply with the vaccine policy before Houston Methodist initiates the employee termination process.
What did the judge say?
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes dismissed every claim in the lawsuit, ruling that Houston Methodist's vaccine policy is just like any employer-instituted workplace policy.
Hughes wrote, in part:
Although her claims fail as a matter of law, it is also necessary to clarify that [hospital worker Jennifer] 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.
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 his renumeration. This is all part of the bargain.
"Jennifer Bridges and the balance of the plaintiffs will take nothing from Houston Methodist Hospital and Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital," Hughes concluded.
What was the reaction?
Jared Woodfill, the attorney representing the hospital employees, said he would continue fighting — even to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"This is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment," Woodfill said, NBC News reported.
Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, applauded the judge's ruling.
"We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation," Boom said.