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Workers suing hospital over vaccine mandate prepared to fight 'all the way to the Supreme Court'

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Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – The attorney for 117 employees of Houston Methodist suing the hospital over its vaccine mandate vowed to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit.

All Houston Methodist employees were required to take both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by June 7 or risk suspension and eventual termination. Many refused, and 117 filed suit.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in a four-page opinion released Friday that firing the employees for not taking the shot did not amount to wrongful termination. Under Texas law, wrongful termination pertains only to the firing of an employee who refuses to perform an illegal act.

Hughes rejected several claims from the plaintiffs, arguing that the lead plaintiff, Jennifer Bridges, says that Methodist requiring her to receive the shot or be fired “is not coercion. … 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,” Hughes wrote. “Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. This is all part of the bargain.”

Hughes also denied a request for a temporary restraining order to block the hospital from suspending the 178 employees who did not receive a shot.

Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, told news outlets in response to the ruling, “We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service, and innovation. Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do. They have fulfilled their sacred obligation as health care workers, and we couldn’t ask for a more dedicated, caring, and talented team.”

The plaintiffs’ Houston-based attorney, Jared Woodfill, said, “We’re taking it all the way Supreme Court.”

“This will go all the way,” Bridges said. “This is only the beginning.”

On April 1, Houston Methodist announced that its employees must receive the COVID-19 shot or be fired. By June 8, of its more than 25,000 employees, 24,947 had received both shots. The remaining 178 who had chosen not to receive the shot or had only received one dose were suspended for 14 days without pay.

Boom said those 178 employees “decided not to put their patients first,” and would be fired if they didn’t get the shots by the end of their suspension period.

Some employees, 285, received religious or medical exemptions; 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy or other reasons.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced that businesses can require employees to get the COVID-19 shot without violating federal law, but employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” for those who can’t or won’t get them due to religious reasons, pregnancy, or a disability.

The Houston Methodist mandate violates the Nuremberg Code of 1947, Woodfill argues.

“To promote its business and increase profits at the expense of other health care providers and their employees’ health, defendants advertise to the public that they ‘require all employees and employed physicians to get a COVID-19 vaccine.’ More clearly, defendants’ employees are being forced to serve as human ‘guinea pigs’ to increase defendants’ profits,” Woodfill argues, adding the mandate is a “severe and blatant” violation of Texas law.

The COVID-19 vaccines have received approval for Emergency Use Authorization only and have not been fully approved by the FDA.