On June 12, 2021, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes dismissed a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Bridges and 116 other employees (the "Plaintiffs") of Houston Methodist Hospital (the "Hospital"), who argued that the Hospital's COVID-19 vaccination mandate for workers is illegal. This was a case of first impression and is relevant as more and more hospitals are mandating that their staff must be vaccinated.
On April 1, 2021, the Hospital announced a policy requiring that all employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine by June 7, 2021. Shortly thereafter, the Plaintiffs sued the Hospital to block the vaccine requirement and any terminations that could occur as a result of the new policy.
Judge Hughes rejected the Plaintiffs' arguments that the Hospital's termination of employees who refuse to be vaccinated would constitute wrongful termination, stating that Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit illegal acts and that "[r]eceiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties." In addition, Judge Hughes rejected the Plaintiffs' arguments that the Hospital's policy violates federal law, including law governing the protection of "human subjects" and the Nuremberg Code. Judge Hughes dismissed these arguments, explaining that "[t]he [H]ospital's employees are not participants in a human trial. They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The [H]ospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees, it has not been approved by an institutional review board, and it has not been certified to proceed with clinical trials." Judge Hughes further explained that the Nuremberg Code does not apply in this case because the Hospital "is a private employer, not a government" and noted that the Plaintiffs' act of "[e]quating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible." Lastly, Judge Hughes rejected the Plaintiffs' argument that they are being coerced "to be injected with a vaccine or be fired," stating that "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 you have any questions regarding the development and implementation of COVID-19 vaccine policies, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Health Law Practice Group at Shipman & Goodwin LLP.
A copy of the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas may be found here.
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