Lawsuit over Houston Methodist's COVID-19 vaccine mandate dismissed

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by employees of Houston Methodist over the health system's COVID-19 vaccination mandate for workers, marking the first decision of its kind by a court regarding such a requirement at a health system.

The lawsuit, filed May 28 by Jennifer Bridges, RN, and 116 other workers, argued that the mandate is illegal and forces workers to get an experimental vaccine to keep their jobs.

But U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled June 12 that the health system did not violate state or federal law or public policy with its requirement.

"This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus," Mr. Hughes wrote in the ruling, which was shared with Becker's. "It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer."

Houston Methodist, which comprises an academic medical center and six community hospitals, was the first large, integrated health system to implement a vaccination mandate for employees.

Houston Methodist rolled out its mandatory vaccination policy March 31, with April 15 as the deadline for managers to receive at least one dose or get an exemption. More than 99 percent of the management team had complied by that deadline. By June 7, all 26,000 employees were required to comply. Those who are not in compliance will receive a two-week suspension. Houston Methodist said if workers do not comply by June 21, it would "initiate the employee termination process," according to The New York Times.

Houston Methodist President and CEO Marc Boom, MD, reported nearly 100 percent compliance as of June 8, although 178 employees, who did not get fully vaccinated or were not granted an exemption or deferral, were suspended.

The mandate has sparked pushback from some employees, who argued that the COVID-19 vaccines are "experimental and dangerous" and that Houston Methodist's requirement forces workers to serve as human guinea pigs.

"If we don't stop this now and do some kind of change, everybody's just going to topple," Ms. Bridges told local news station ABC13 at a protest earlier in June. "It's going to create a domino effect. Everybody across the nation is going to be forced to get things into their body that they don't want and that's not right."

In his ruling, Mr. Hughes rejected employees' claims that the vaccine requirement violates the Nuremberg Code, a medical ethics code for human experimentation drafted in 1947 because of the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II. He also rejected claims the vaccines are "experimental and dangerous." He said, "Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker." He also wrote that "receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties."

Jared Woodfill, the plaintiffs' attorney and conservative activist who filed the lawsuit, told NPR his clients are not done "fighting this unjust policy" and are committed to an appeal.

Dr. Boom said in a statement: "We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation. All our employees have now met the requirements of the vaccine policy and I couldn't be prouder of them. 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 healthcare workers, and we couldn't ask for a more dedicated, caring and talented team."

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