Hospital Workers Sue Over Texas Employer's Vaccine Mandate
Over 100 employees of Houston Methodist Hospital—one of the first employers to require employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or face discharge—have sued the hospital. The workers claim that the hospital’s vaccine mandate makes employees into “human ‘guinea pigs’” because the Food and Drug Administration has not yet fully approved the vaccines, which were instead issued under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and therefore are still considered “experimental.” The lawsuit states that “[t]he abbreviated timelines for the emergency use applications and authorizations means there is much the FDA does not know about these products” and claims that the hospital’s vaccine mandate violates Texas state law and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which states that no one may be forced to accept an “unapproved” medical product issued under an EUA. The suit also alleges that the hospital’s requirement violates the Nuremberg Code, the medical ethics code issued after Nazi physicians were found guilty of experimenting on human subjects without their consent during World War II. Although a federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit, plaintiffs have appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Previously, Houston Methodist had incentivized employees by offering an extra $500 to vaccinated workers. However, in April, the hospital’s CEO notified workers that the hospital would require all 26,000 employees to be vaccinated by June 7 or face termination, unless an exemption applied based on a medical condition or sincerely held religious belief. According to the hospital, 99% of its employees complied with the vaccine mandate.
As most employers know, recent EEOC guidance states that federal EEO laws do not prevent employers from requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations—subject to the rules on reasonable accommodations for certain religious beliefs and medical conditions. However, this lawsuit is a good reminder that employers face other exposure beyond EEO laws, and those wishing to impose a vaccine mandate may still face an uphill battle. However, this lawsuit is a good reminder that employers face other exposure beyond EEO laws, and those wishing to impose a vaccine mandate may still face some challenges.