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Legal Medicine

Legal Briefs: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Hospital’s Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy

A Federal District Court recently struck down a challenge from a group of employees to a Texas hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

The Background

In April 2021, Houston Methodist Hospital announced a mandatory COVID-19 immunization policy for all employees. The policy was instituted in phases, and every employee was expected to get the immunization or to submit documentation for an exemption based on a medical condition or sincerely held religious belief. Employees were given until June 7 to be immunized. Those who refused were suspended for 2 weeks, and if they did not get the immunization in that time period they were fired.

A nurse and over 100 employees who did not want to be vaccinated filed a lawsuit seeking to block the vaccine requirement and prevent the job terminations. The complaint (which the judge noted was written in ‘press-release style’) made numerous dramatic allegations including that employees were being forced to be “human guinea pigs as a condition for employment” and that they were being “forced” to take a vaccine that had been “rushed” through the approval process. The complaint alleged that the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System had identified serious health risks with the COVID-19 vaccine and that employees were being made to take an “experimental product.” Finally, the complaint claimed that the hospital’s policy violated the Nuremberg Code because employees were being used as part of a “medical experiment” without their informed consent.

The Decision

In their decision, the Federal District Court judge shot down the employees’ arguments, holding that the claim that the vaccines are experimental and dangerous was both false and irrelevant. She noted that the injection requirement does not violate public policy or federal law. The judge was disgusted by the plaintiffs’ comparison of the vaccine to forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust. “The Nuremberg Code does not apply because the hospital is a private employer not a government. Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” she wrote.

She pointed out that being given a choice of a vaccine or being fired is not coercion. “Plaintiffs can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if they refuse, they will need to work elsewhere… 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 remuneration. That is all part of the bargain,” concluded the judge, who dismissed the case.

Ann W. Latner, JD, is a freelance writer and attorney based in New York. She was formerly the director of periodicals at the American Pharmacists Association and editor of Pharmacy Times.