Earlier this year, the hospital system announced that all 26,000 employees would be required to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of employment with a few exceptions for religious or health reasons. The new policy spurred an employee walkout and protest, and over 100 employees filed a lawsuit in federal court with the help of Texas attorney Jared Woodfill.
While the federal suit, Bridges v Houston Methodist Hospital, remains pending before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a second group of employees who were terminated by Houston Methodist for refusal to receive one of the new vaccines has filed a state lawsuit, also with the help of Woodfill.
Filed in a state district court in Montgomery County, Stevenson v The Methodist Hospital, is asking the court to apply an exception to the state’s “employment-at-will” doctrine. The doctrine says that an employer may terminate the relationship with an employee for any reason without having to provide justification. The state recognizes an exception known as “Sabine Pilot” if an employee is fired for refusing to perform an illegal act.
“We believe that even if the court does not apply the Sabine Pilot exception, they have an opportunity to create another public policy exception to the employment-at will-doctrine, and that is making it illegal to force someone to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition of employment,” Woodfill explained to The Texan.
Woodfill also points out that either the existing or a new exception would be consistent with Governor Abbott’s executive order GA-35 prohibiting vaccine passports.
“Look at Governor Abbott’s language associated with that,” said Woodfill. “Abbott said, ‘As I’ve said all along these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced.’”
In issuing GA-35, Abbott stated, “Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives.”
In the lawsuit filed, plaintiffs also point to data casting doubt on the efficacy of the EUA vaccines in protecting individuals from the Delta Variant of COVID-19. They cite studies coming from Europe and Israel showing outbreaks among vaccinated healthcare workers, and they quote Director of the Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem Dr. Kobi Haviv as saying, “Most of the population in Israel is vaccinated…and 85-90 percent of the hospitalizations are fully vaccinated people.”
Plaintiffs also assert that Houston Methodist does not make any exception for workers who have already contracted and recovered from COVID-19.
Woodfill says at least half of the plaintiffs in the state lawsuit have already recovered and that early studies indicate they have greater immunity than those vaccinated.
“That’s what so shocking about the whole thing, that at the height of the pandemic these (Houston Methodist) executives were at their houses far away from the hospitals and using Zoom and other digital platforms, while my clients were on the frontlines working with people who were COVID-positive and that’s where they contracted COVID-19,” said Woodfill.
Several studies released in 2021 have indicated that reinfection among those who have recovered from COVID-19 is rare, with at least one study suggesting the reinfection rate is below 1 percent.
Plaintiffs also point to Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data indicating that through July 30, 2021, there have been 46,036 hospitalizations and 12,366 deaths related to the EUA COVID-19 vaccines.
The lawsuit also notes that most other hospitals and healthcare systems have declined to mandate vaccinations for all employees.
“If this were truly about putting patients first, every single hospital system, medical provider, facility clinic, and office would have banded together to mandate vaccines,” Woodfill writes in the complaint. “Yet there stands Methodist Hospital, claiming it is unique in ‘putting patients first.’”
A copy of the lawsuit can be found below.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.