Court denies reinstatement bid of Mass General Brigham employees who refused vaccination

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Fired employees who were denied exemptions from Boston-based Mass General Brigham's COVID-19 vaccination mandate have lost a legal battle to preserve their jobs, Bloomberg Law reported.

In an opinion issued Nov. 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit denied the employees' request for a preliminary injunction to be reinstated, saying they failed to show irreparable harm and that money damages would provide adequate compensation for firings.

"Money damages would adequately resolve all of the alleged harms. Moreover, as the deadline for being vaccinated has passed, the appellants cannot point to an 'impossible choice' as a special factor here; they have already made their choices," a panel of judges wrote.

Eight employees sued Mass General Brigham after their exemptions were denied. Each employee sought a religious exemption to the system's mandate — which required employees to receive their first doses or exemptions by Oct. 15 — and some also sought medical exemptions, according to court documents.

Mass General Brigham denied the exemptions, and when the workers still refused vaccination, they were placed on unpaid leave, the documents show.

Employees argue that Mass General Brigham violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it denied their exemptions. A district court denied the employees' request for a preliminary injunction to be reinstated from unpaid leave while the case proceeded — a decision that was upheld by the 1st Circuit appeals court.

The appeals court judges said, "To the extent the appellants argue that MGB's actions impair their religious liberty rights under the Constitution, that argument fails. As appellants concede, MGB is not a state actor governed by the First Amendment. If MGB's actions turn out to be unlawful, they are remediable through money damages."

One of the employees resigned after Mass General Brigham's vaccination deadline passed and one got vaccinated, according to court documents. The remaining unvaccinated workers were terminated. 

As of Nov. 19, more than 99 percent of Mass General Brigham employees are vaccinated. 

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