In what might prove to be the first in a long series of rulings on whether hospitals and health systems can require their employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of ongoing employment, “A federal judge on Saturday dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 Houston Methodist staff over the hospital's policy requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Rebecca Falconer wrote in Axios on Saturday, June 13. “He rejected the lawsuit's argument that the mandate of the hospital in Houston, Texas, was unlawful. ‘This is not coercion,’ [United States District Judge Lynn N.] Hughes said. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.’ Hughes called the plaintiffs' argument equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in Nazi concentration camps ‘reprehensible.’”
Falconer noted that Houston Methodist had suspended 178 employees without pay for 14 days last Tuesday for failing to comply with the mandate. But in his ruling in Jennifer Bridges et al v. Houston Methodist Hospital et al, “Hughes earlier this month denied the plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order to block the suspension,” Falconer wrote. “The judge said the public interest in ‘caring for patients during a pandemic far outweighs protecting the vaccination preferences of 116 employees,’ noting the staff were ‘jeopardizing" their own health’ and that of others. The hospital pointed to the administering of over 300 million doses in the U.S. and falls in positive cases and hospitalizations as proof that vaccines do work.” And she quoted Marc Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist as saying in a statement that "We can now put this behind us ... All our employees have now met the requirements of the vaccine policy and I couldn't be prouder of them."
As NBC News’s Dennis Romero wrote in a report published just after midnight, in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 13, “A federal court in Texas on Saturday dismissed a lawsuit by 117 hospital employees who challenged their employer's vaccination requirement. In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas' written decision, Judge Lynn N. Hughes said lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges, a nurse, and 116 other Houston Methodist Hospital employees who challenged the requirement, had no case.”
And in his breaking-news report published on Saturday evening, June 12, USA Today’s David Heath wrote that, “In the first federal ruling on vaccine mandates, a Houston judge has dismissed a lawsuit by hospital employees who declined the COVID-19 shot – a decision that could have a ripple effect across the nation. The case involved Houston Methodist, which was the first hospital system in the country to require that all its employees get vaccinated. U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate. After months of warnings, Houston Methodist had put more than 170 of its 26,000 employees on unpaid suspension Monday. They were told they would be fired it they weren't vaccinated by June 21. The hospital had made it clear it meant what it said: It fired the director of corporate risk – Bob Nevens – and another manager in April when they did not meet the earlier deadline for bosses,” Heath wrote.
Heath went on to write that “Houston Methodist's CEO Marc Boom predicts more hospitals soon will enact vaccine mandates. Many hospitals and employers were waiting for legal clarification before acting. ‘We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,’ Boom said after the ruling. ‘Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.’ The lawsuit was filed by 117 workers led by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at Houston Methodist's Baytown hospital who declined the vaccine because she considers it experimental and dangerous. The judge disagreed, writing: ‘This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant.’”
Heath wrote that “Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital, is among 178 workers suspended for refusing to get vaccinated. Learning of the dismissal from USA TODAY, Bridges vowed not to give up. She has initiated a change.org petition that as of Saturday had drawn more than 9,000 signatures and a GoFundMe to pay for the lawsuit that has raised $130,000. ‘This doesn't surprise me,’ she said. ‘Methodist is a very large company, and they are pretty well-protected in a lot of areas. We knew this was going to be a huge fight, and we are prepared to fight it.’”
NBC’s Romero wrote that “In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas' written decision, Judge Lynn N. Hughes said lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges, a nurse, and 116 other Houston Methodist Hospital employees who challenged the requirement, had no case. The employees' lawyer, Jared Woodfill responded in a statement Saturday, ‘This is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment.’ He said they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court ‘if necessary.’ On Tuesday, hospital officials said they had suspended 178 employees who refused to be inoculated. Hughes addressed the plaintiffs' arguments one-by-one. On the vaccination requirement violating due process, he wrote, ‘Texas does not recognize this exception to at-will employment.’ On their argument that the requirement would force workers to break the law: "Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties.” Hughes stated flatly in his ruling that "Federal law authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to introduce into interstate commerce medical products intended for use in an emergency,” dismissing the idea that employees were being forced to take an “experimental” vaccine.
What’s more, Romero wrote, “At times, Hughes seemed to mock the plaintiffs, saying, for example, that their complaint was written ‘press-release style.’ Plaintiffs, she said, ‘misconstrued’ the law and ‘misrepresented the facts’ of vaccination, including that the requirement amounted to forced medical experimentation because Covid-19 vaccines have received emergency Food and Drug Administration authorization but not full approval.”
Meanwhile, The Hill’s Jordan Williams wrote on Saturday night that “Houston Methodist gave its employees until June 7 to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or face termination. Earlier this week, the hospital said that nearly 100 percent of its staff had complied with the mandate, but those who hadn’t were suspended for 14 days. If they were not vaccinated before their suspension ended, the hospital said it would ‘immediately initiate the employee termination process.’ The 117 plaintiffs, led by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse, accused the hospital of ‘forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.’ The suit further alleged that the vaccines were experimental and dangerous and that being forced to get vaccinated violated federal law. In a five-page order on Saturday, Hughes largely debunked the plaintiff’s arguments. But the judge specifically blasted the plaintiffs for equating the vaccine mandate to forced experimentation during the Holocaust. ‘Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,’ Hughes wrote. ‘Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.’ Jared Woodfill, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Hill that his clients plan to appeal to the ruling and will be seeking similar judgement from the Texas Supreme Court in a similar case. ‘This is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment,’ Woodfill said. ‘Ultimately, I believe Methodist Hospital will be held accountable for their conduct.’”