Houston Methodist Update: Case Dismissed

Well, that was quick. I recently wrote about Bridges v. Houston Methodist, one of the first major challenges to private employer vaccine mandates. In short, Houston Methodist’s policy is that any employee that does not receive a COVID 19 vaccine by June 7, 2021 will be suspended and then terminated.  The Court completely dismissed the employees’ claims on June 12, 2021 in a short, terse opinion.

Plaintiffs equated Houston Methodist’s requirements to Nazi experimentation on Jewish people. The Court dismissed the “Nuremberg Code” argument entirely. It commented that, “equating the injection requirements to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible.” The Court explained that Houston Methodist is, “trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus,” and that, “[plaintiffs] can freely choose to accept or refuse a Covid-19 vaccine; however, if [they] refuse, [they] simply need to work somewhere else.” The Court further commented,

“If a worker refuses an assignment, changed, office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired. Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. That is all part of the bargain.”

I previously commented that the Court may address the constitutional question on its own or in response to Houston Methodist’s argument. It did. The Court commented that the United States Supreme Court previously held that (a) involuntary quarantine for contagious diseases and (b) state-imposed requirements of mandatory vaccination do not violate due process. As such, the Court found that the employees’ public policy arguments must fail, both under Texas state law and federal law.

The Court also found it important that on May 28, 2021, the EEOC said that an employer can require employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 subject to reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that preclude vaccination.

The judge, Lynn Nettleton Hughes, was appointed by a republican president, Ronald Regan. My brief research suggests he has sided with employers on employment related issues in the past. This is interesting because it suggests that private employer vaccine mandates may be favored by judges with both conservative and liberal leanings.

This case certainly does not conclusively answer all questions regarding every private employer vaccine mandate, but it does provide some support for how a court may analyze the issue.

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