In the first lawsuit against a private employer on its mandatory vaccine policy, Houston Methodist Hospital won dismissal of the case brought by a group of unvaccinated employees. The Honorable Lynn N. Hughes issued a five-page opinion dismissing the Plaintiffs’ two-count Complaint. As mentioned in our previous Alert, the Plaintiffs alleged that the Hospital wrongfully discharged them from employment under a public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine under Texas law and a violation of federal law regarding the use of products approved under the “emergency use authorization.” See 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3.
In this very narrow opinion, the Court found that the Plaintiffs’ claim for wrongful termination failed under Texas law. In order to prevent dismissal under Texas law, a plaintiff must show that “he or she was required to commit an illegal act – one carrying criminal penalties.” The Court found that the Plaintiffs did not allege an illegal act in association with termination because the COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act. The Court also held that 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3 does not apply to private employers or “confer a private opportunity to sue the government, employer, or worker.”
Notably, the Court references the EEOC guidance mentioned in our prior article regarding the EEOC’s Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccinations, that outlines specific exceptions to mandatory vaccination policies. Ultimately, the Court dismissed this lawsuit, but it is likely that an appeal will follow.
We will continue to monitor the situation and keep an eye out for new lawsuits regarding mandatory vaccinations. If you have any questions regarding the issues raised in this client alert, please contact your Labor and Employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.