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Federal Judge Dismisses Texas Suit Challenging Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccination

In April, Houston Methodist Hospital announced its decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination for all employees. One hundred seventeen employees sued to block the mandate. But, on June 12th, one day after hearing oral argument, US District Court Judge Lynn Hughes, issued an order dismissing the suit.

His order makes short work of the plaintiffs’ arguments.

They contended that terminating them for refusing the injection would constitute wrongful termination. Not so, says Judge Hughes. To prevail in a wrongful termination suit, the plaintiff must show that her employer terminated her because she refused to perform an illegal act, one carrying criminal penalties. But, receiving a COVID-19 vaccination isn’t illegal and carries no criminal penalties.

Judge Hughes also rejects the plaintiffs’ argument that the vaccination mandate violates public policy. Texas law, he explains, recognizes no public policy exception to the employment at-will rule. And, if it did, the injection requirement comports with public policy. “The Supreme Court has held that (a) involuntary quarantine for contagious disease and (b) state-imposed requirements of mandatory vaccination do not violate due process.”

The plaintiffs argued that the injection requirement violates federal law because the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t fully approved the available vaccines. No matter, says Judge Hughes. Federal law governing FDA approval for medications is inapposite to private employers and creates no private right of action.

Judge Hughes likewise rejects the plaintiffs’ contention that the vaccination mandate violates federal law governing protection for human subjects. That's because the Hospital's employees are not participants in a human trial. 

They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees, it has not been approved by the institutional review board, and it has not been certified to proceed with clinical trials.

Judge Hughes aimed his harshest criticism at the plaintiffs’ contention that the injection requirement is invalid because it violates the Nuremberg Code, likening the threat of termination for refusing to be vaccinated to forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust

The Nuremberg Code does not apply because Methodist is a private employer, not a government. Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible. Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.

Finally, Judge Hughes rejected the plaintiffs' underlying premise, that Methodist Hospital was coercing the plaintiffs to be vaccinated.

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 [ -- the lead plaintiff -- ] 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 workers’ behavior in exchange for remuneration. That is all part of the bargain.


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