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Texas Federal Court Decision Signals Willingness of Courts to Uphold Mandatory Employee Vaccination Policies

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| Legal Advisory

On June 12, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas upheld a policy established by Houston Methodist Hospital that requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment. Judge Hughes dismissed a case filed by 117 workers alleging that the hospital’s policy is unlawful, and accordingly, that firing employees who refuse to be vaccinated would constitute wrongful termination.

In rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims, the court pointed out that Texas law only protects employees from termination for refusing to commit a criminal act. The court reasoned:  “Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties.” The court further ruled that the hospital’s “injection requirement is consistent with public policy.” 

Judge Hughes also cited the May 28, 2021 guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which stated that an employer’s mandatory vaccination policy would not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act so long as the policy provided for reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs.

Lastly, the court found that the Houston Methodist Hospital plaintiffs are not being “coerced” into receiving the vaccine. Rather, “the hospital is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus.” Any employee who chooses to refuse the vaccine “will simply need to work somewhere else.” 

There is no certainty that the Houston Methodist Hospital decision will be followed by other courts or applied outside of the health care industry. Nevertheless, the decision may signal a judicial willingness to uphold mandatory employee vaccination policies. If you have questions about employee vaccination or return to the worksite, please contact your Nutter attorney.

This advisory was prepared by Natalie Cappellazzo, Emily Grannon Fox, Chris LindstromLiam O’Connell, and David Rubin in Nutter’s Labor, Employment and Benefits practice group. If you would like additional information, please contact one of the authors or your Nutter attorney at 617.439.2000.

This update is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. Under the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered as advertising. 

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