Federal judge issues ruling in hospital staff COVID vaccination mandate lawsuit

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The first federal ruling on COVID-19 vaccination mandates has been issued. A lawsuit was filed by staffers at Houston Methodist Hospital who refuse to receive a COVID-19 vaccination though the hospital is requiring that its staff is fully vaccinated. The judge ruled in favor of the hospital and against the staffers.

This is the latest update on a story we have been following. Houston Methodist Hospital suspended 178 staffers without pay last week for their failure to get fully vaccinated by the deadline. In May, a nurse was fired for failing to meet a deadline for vaccinations. She was let go after going to the local press with her refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The hospital was sending a clear message that either an employee get the vaccination or they will lose their jobs. The hospital’s CEO Marc Bloom has been consistent in this mandate. No exceptions except for those employees who receive an exemption for religious reasons or health reasons. This nurse was denied an exemption.

The story continued last week as a walk-out was planned by disgruntled staff. The hospital learned of the plan, which was easy enough to do since this was reported in local media in advance, and refused to allow the protesters to do so on hospital property. A group of protesters ended up doing so on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. The unvaccinated staffers stated that they would not change their minds until the federal judge hearing their case ruled.

U.S. district judge Lynn N. Hughes, a Reagan nominee, dismissed the lawsuit on Saturday. The 117 employees who filed the lawsuit lost their bid to resist the hospital’s mandate.

U.S. district judge Lynn N. Hughes said in his ruling that claims that the vaccines are dangerous are “false, and it is also irrelevant.” Hughes noted that Texas law “only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker,” and that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine “is not an illegal act.”

Hughes also wrote in his ruling that the hospital’s requirement does not violate federal law or public policy, and took issue with the lawsuit comparing the requirement to get vaccinated with Nazi medical experiments during the Holocaust.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes wrote. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”

Jared Woodfill, the attorney representing the employees, said that this is just round one in the fight. Woodfill is a Republican activist and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.

The employees’ lawyer, Jared Woodfill responded in a statement Saturday, “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.”

He said they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court “if necessary.”

All 178 employees were suspended Tuesday. The ruling by Hughes goes point by point and addresses each complaint. “Texas does not recognize this exception to at-will employment.”

Judge Hughes said that the lawsuit, led by nurse Jennifer Bridges, was dismissed because “Texas law only protects from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker.” Bridges had to show she was mandated to commit an illegal act that carries criminal penalties, she refused to commit an illegal act, she was discharged, and the only reason for discharge is that she refused to perform the illegal act. The judge ruled that the vaccination mandate is not coercion. Bridges claims to be expected to be a “human guinea pig” and the judge ruled against that point, too. If she refuses, she simply has to go elsewhere to work.

The Nuremberg reference is found to be particularly odious.

Plaintiffs, he said, “misconstrued” the law and “misrepresented the facts” of vaccination, including that the requirement amounted to forced medical experimentation because Covid-19 vaccines have received emergency Food and Drug Administration authorization but not full approval.

Hughes also knocks down a comparison to forced medical experiments in Nazi Germany.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” he wrote.

Houston Methodist Hospital CEO Marc Bloom released a brief statement Saturday after the ruling. “We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation.” His position on behalf of the hospital all along has been that hospital staff has an obligation to protect patients and being fully vaccinated is part of that protection. This is likely not the last we will hear about this case. Other hospitals and businesses are watching to see how it plays out as the country re-opens.