On April 1, 2021, Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7, 2021. Jennifer Bridges and 116 fellow employees sued, raising a series of claims in attempting to overturn the mandatory vaccination rule.
Federal Court Judge Lynn Hughes rejected the lawsuit. The employees focused on a claim that as the COVID-19 vaccines were “experimental and dangerous,” Texas law prohibited compulsory vaccination. Judge Hughes disagreed on all counts, finding “to succeed on a wrongful termination claim, Bridges must show that (a) she was required to commit an illegal act – one carrying criminal penalties; (b) she refused to engage in the illegality; (c) she was discharged; and (d) the only reason for the discharge was the refusal to commit an unlawful act.
“Bridges does not specify what illegal act she has refused to perform, but in the press release style of the complaint, she says that she refuses to be a ‘human guinea pig.’ Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties. She is refusing to accept inoculation that in the hospital’s judgment, will make it safer for their workers and patients in Methodist’s care.
“Bridges also argues that the injection requirement violates public policy. Texas does not recognize this exception to at-will employment, and if it did, the injection requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has held that (a) involuntary quarantine for contagious diseases; and (b) state-imposed requirements of mandatory vaccination do not violate due process.
“On May 28, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that employers can require employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 subject to reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that preclude vaccination. This is not binding, but it is advice about the position one is likely to meet at the Commission.
“Federal law authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to introduce into interstate commerce medical products intended for use in an emergency. It also requires the Secretary to ensure product recipients understand the potential benefits and risks of use and the option to accept or refuse administration of the product. Bridges has misconstrued this provision. It confers certain powers and responsibilities to the Secretary of Health and Human Services in an emergency. It neither expands nor restricts the responsibilities of private employers; in fact, it does not apply at all to private employers like the hospital in this case. It does not confer a private opportunity to sue the government, employer, or worker.
“She also argues that injection requirement violates federal law governing the protection of human subjects. Bridges has again misconstrued this provision, and she has now also misrepresented the facts. The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial. They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees, it has not been approved by an institutional review board, and it has not been certified to proceed with clinical trials.
“Bridges says that she is being forced to be injected with a vaccine or be fired. This is not coercion. 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. Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else.”
Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, Civil Action 21-1774 (S.D. Tex. 2021).