A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist over its policy to terminate workers who refuse to get the COVID vaccine, calling it “reprehensible” that plaintiffs compared the requirement to those made under Nazi Germany.
In the lawsuit on behalf of 117 Houston Methodist employees, lawyers likened the vaccine requirement to the Nuremberg Code, a set of medical ethics standards created at the end of World War II following medical experiments by the Nazis on German citizens.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes heavily criticized the comparison in a decision Saturday.
“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 is one of the first hospitals in the nation to require employees to be vaccinated. The hospital system allows employees to opt out of the vaccine requirement if they provide a medical or religious exemption.
Jennifer Bridges, a Houston Methodist Baytown nurse who originally circulated a petition in April asking the hospital’s executives to reconsider the policy, said the plaintiffs plan to appeal.
“This will go all the way,” Bridges said. “This is only the beginning.”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials issued guidance on Thursday outlining new COVID-19 precautions and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus in health care workplaces. Under the new rule, health care employers must provide paid time off for workers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and recover from the side effects. Federal regulators in May issued guidance allowing employers to require proof of vaccination as a condition of employment.
Hughes wrote in the dismissal order that the vaccinate mandate “was not coercion.”
“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” the judge wrote. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”
He also denied a request for a temporary restraining order to block the hospital from suspending the 178 employees who have not received a shot.
See here for some background – the policy was announced in late April, the lawsuit was filed shortly afterwards. As of the last day before the suspensions, all but 178 employees out of 25,000 had been vaccinated, and 27 of those 171 had since received a first shot. The nurse who has acted as the spokesperson for the holdout employees has insisted this isn’t about vaccine skepticism but about not wanting to rush things and so on, but as the Chron editorial board noted over the weekend, her rhetoric has veered more into conspiracy theory land as this has progressed. Plus, there’s the whole “hiring Jared Woodfill as their attorney” thing, which is something you never do if you want to be taken seriously. Anyway, my guess is that they will get no joy from the appeals courts, who I suspect will be more pro-employer than pro-not-getting-vaccinated, but we’ll see. The Press has more.