June 14, 2021 -- A federal judge in Texas has dismissed a lawsuit from 117 Houston Methodist Hospital workers who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine and said it was illegal to require them to do so.
In the ruling issued Saturday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes upheld the hospital’s policy and said the vaccination requirement didn’t break any federal laws.
“This is not coercion,” Hughes wrote in the ruling.
“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” he wrote. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer.”
In April, the Houston Methodist Hospital system announced a policy that required employees to be vaccinated by June 7 or request an exemption. After last week’s deadline, 178 of 26,000 employees refused to get inoculated and were placed on suspension without pay. The employees said the vaccine was unsafe and “experimental.” In his ruling, Hughes said their claim was false and irrelevant.
“Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker,” he wrote. “Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties.”
Hughes denounced the “press-release style of the complaint” and the comparison of the hospital’s vaccine policy to forced experimentation by the Nazis against Jewish people during the Holocaust.
“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” he wrote. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”
Hughes also said that employees can “freely choose” to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine. If they refuse, they “simply need to work somewhere else,” he wrote.
“If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired,” Hughes said. “Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. This is all part of the bargain.”
The ruling could set a precedent for similar COVID-19 vaccine lawsuits across the country, NPR reported. Houston Methodist was one of the first hospitals to require staff to be vaccinated. After the ruling on Saturday, the hospital system wrote in a statement that it was “pleased and reassured” that Hughes dismissed a “frivolous lawsuit.”
The hospital system will begin to terminate the 178 employees who were suspended if they don’t get a vaccine by June 21.
Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who has led the campaign against the vaccine policy, said she and the other plaintiffs will appeal the decision, according to KHOU.
“We’re OK with this decision. We are appealing. This will be taken all the way to the Supreme Court,” she told the news station. “This is far from over. This is literally only the beginning.”