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A Judge Has Thrown Out A Lawsuit Brought By Hospital Workers Over A Vaccine Mandate

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 employees at Houston Methodist Hospital who were suing the hospital system over its COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

In a five-page ruling issued Saturday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes upheld the hospital's vaccination policy, saying the requirement broke no federal law.

"This is not coercion," said Hughes. "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 decision marked the latest development in a standoff that began in April when Houston Methodist announced that all staff would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7. The hospital says that nearly all of its roughly 26,000 employees agreed to the policy, but suspended nearly 200 staff members without pay for refusing to comply.

The 178 employees suspended by the hospital argue that the vaccines are unsafe and even "experimental." The hospital has responded by saying that hundreds of millions of vaccine doses have been safely administered after a vetting process that included three rounds of clinical trials.

The judge compared the challenge to a press release

In his ruling, Judge Hughes called the plaintiffs' claim that currently available COVID-19 vaccines are "experimental and dangerous" an argument that is both false and irrelevant. "Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker," Hughes wrote, adding that the "press-release style of the complaint" fails to specify what illegal acts the plaintiffs were alleged to have been asked to perform.

"Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties," the judge wrote.

The judge also denounced the plaintiffs for equating the vaccine mandate to forced experimentation by the Nazis against Jewish people during the Holocaust. "Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible," Hughes said. "Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death."

Houston Methodist has been among the first hospitals in the nation to require staff to be inoculated against the coronavirus, and the judge's decision marked an early test of how challenges to similar bans may hold up in the courts.

The plaintiffs say their fight isn't over

Jared Woodfill, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told NPR they're not done "fighting this unjust policy." In a written statement, he said his clients are committed to appealing the decision.

"What is shocking is that many of my clients were on the front line treating COVID-positive patients at Texas Methodist Hospital during the height of the pandemic," he said. "As a result, many of them contracted COVID-19. As a thank you for their service and sacrifice, Methodist Hospital awards them a pink slip and sentences them to bankruptcy."

Houston Methodist welcomed the decision, writing in a statement on Saturday that it was "pleased and reassured after U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes today dismissed a frivolous lawsuit filed by some employees who fought our COVID-19 vaccine mandate."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emine Yücel