In a case that has far-reaching implications, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Houston hospital employees who were ordered to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot or face termination.
The federal case involved Houston Methodist, the first hospital system in the country to require all of its employees to be vaccinated. US District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent private employers from issuing that mandate.
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Houston Methodist put more than 170 of its 26,000 employees on unpaid suspension Monday for refusing to be vaccinated. They were also warned they would be fired it they weren’t vaccinated by June 21.
The hospital had already fired its director of corporate risk and another manager in April when they did not meet an earlier deadline for vaccination.
The ruling is the first federal test of vaccination mandates. In recent weeks, a few other major hospitals have imposed requirements similar to Houston Methodist’s, including the University of Pennsylvania, University of Louisville, New York Presbyterian and several major hospitals in the Washington, D.C., area.
Houston Methodist’s CEO Marc Boom said the court ruling will allow more hospitals to act.
“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 that was dismissed was filed by 117 workers at Houston Methodist. Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at Houston Methodist’s Baytown hospital, led the group and said she turned down a shot because she considered it experimental and dangerous.
The judge did not agree, stating, “This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant.”
“This doesn’t surprise me,” Bridges said of the ruling. “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.” Her group has started a GoFundMe website to raise a warchest in their ongoing legal struggle.
The plaintiffs argued that mandating a vaccine that was not fully approved by the US Food and Drug Administration was unlawful. The FDA has authorized the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines under a special provision for emergencies.
The judge rejected that claim.
“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” he wrote. “They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technician, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees.”
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