Judge Dismisses Houston Hospital Workers’ Lawsuit Over Vaccines

A federal judge in Texas has dismissed a lawsuit brought by employees of Houston Methodist Hospital who had challenged the hospital’s Covid vaccination requirement.

U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, in the Southern District of Texas, issued a ruling on Saturday that upheld the hospital’s new policy, announced in April. The judge said the hospital’s decision to mandate inoculations for its employees was consistent with public policy.

And he rejected the claim by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, that the vaccines available for use in the United States were experimental and dangerous.

“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Judge Hughes wrote. “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.”

The judge’s decision appeared to be among the first to rule in favor of employer-mandated vaccinations for workers. Several major hospital systems have begun to require Covid shots, including in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

But many private employers and the federal government have not instituted mandatory immunization as they shift operations back to office settings. Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance allowing employers to require vaccines for on-site workers.

In Houston, Ms. Bridges was among those who led a walkout on Monday, the hospital’s deadline for getting the vaccine. And on Tuesday, the hospital suspended 178 employees who refused to get a coronavirus shot.

Ms. Bridgescited the lack of full Food and Drug Administration approval for the shot as justification for refusing to get vaccinated. But the F.D.A., which has granted emergency use authorizations for three vaccines, says clinical trials and post-market study shows they are safe, as does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The judge also noted that Texas employment law only protects employees from termination for refusing to commit an act that carries criminal penalties.

“Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a Covid-19 vaccine, however if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else,” he said, also rejecting the argument that employees were being coerced.

And the judge called “reprehensible” the lawsuit’s contention that a vaccination requirement was akin to medical experimentation during the Holocaust.

In a statement late Saturday, Dr. Marc Boom, chief executive of Houston Methodist, said: “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.”

Houston Methodist said it would begin proceedings to terminate employees who were suspended if they did not get vaccinated by June 21.

Jared Woodfill, the employee plaintiffs’ lawyer, also issued a statement on Saturday, according to news reports, that indicated the workers would appeal the ruling.

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