Federal Court dismisses legal challenges to mandatory vaccination policies | Nexsen Pruet, SARL
A federal court recently ruled in one of the first lawsuits in South Carolina challenging mandatory vaccinations. In Bauer v. Summey, City of North Charleston, City of Charleston and St. James Fire District employees challenged their employers’ mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies and requested a preliminary injunction suspending enforcement policies during the trial. . The court dismissed their injunction request and left the vaccination requirements in place. The case highlights some of the legal challenges courts and workplaces continue to face regarding mandatory vaccinations.
More than a hundred years earlier, a Lutheran pastor had opposed a law in the state of Massachusetts under which the city of Cambridge imposed mandatory vaccination requirements on its residents, which led to a lawsuit ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. One of the foundations of Jacobson’s argument was his assertion of the “inherent right of every free man to take care of his body and his health in the way he sees fit”. The Jacobson The court rejected this argument and upheld the mandatory smallpox vaccinations. The Bauer trial in a federal court in South Carolina involves analogous arguments and has so far achieved the same result as Jacobson.
In Bauer, employers published and implemented policies making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all employees. The policies allowed exemptions for sincere religious beliefs, as required by Title VII, and disability-based, as required by the ADA. By opposing the warrants, the employees brought constitutional claims, alleging that the policies violated their due process rights (procedural and substantive), as well as their First Amendment rights to free exercise and equal protection under the terms of reference. laws. Additionally, also challenging South Carolina state and common law policies, the employees alleged violations of the South Carolina wrongful termination in violation of public order doctrine, as well as a violation of South Carolina’s Home Rule Act and privacy rights. In dismissing the employees’ request for a preliminary injunction, the court rejected each of these arguments.
As to the constitutional due process issues raised by the employees, the court ruled that the employers’ processes for implementing the policies were not flawed, and the employees were given all the processes to which they were entitled when the rules of vaccination – which applied to all employees – were implemented and published for them. The court also rejected employee claims regarding the free exercise and freedom of speech of the First Amendment.
The employees further argued that they should not be fired or disciplined for failing to comply with mandates based on the South Carolina exception to the “at will” employment doctrine. state, which prohibits the termination of an employee in violation of South Carolina “public order”. And considers such a “wrongful dismissal”. This type of challenge would apply to both public and private sector employers.
Specifically, they asserted that the dismissal based on failure to comply with vaccine mandates (and the failure of the employer respondents to grant an “administrative exemption” requested by many complainants) amounted to unfair dismissal in violation of the Act. public order of South Carolina, as it amounted to termination based on the political beliefs of employees and other constitutional rights to free speech and other means of expression.
The court found that employees had cited “no evidence to support the idea that vaccine status is tied to a particular political belief,” nor that South Carolina courts “would recognize vaccine refusal as a “political conviction” subject to any public order exception to use at will. As such, the court concluded that the complainants’ vaccine refusal was likely not the type of political belief or opinion envisioned by a South Carolina law prohibiting termination on this basis.
Ultimately, the court determined that the employees had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims, which is a primary factor for purposes of a preliminary injunction. As a result, while the trial continues, employers’ mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies will remain in effect.
Although their request for an injunction was dismissed, the Bauer the trial remains pending. The same is true of several similar lawsuits challenging the mandatory vaccination policies of employers in other states. It remains to be seen whether the lawsuits will ultimately be successful, or whether the challenges will be dismissed as the Supreme Court did over a hundred years ago. In the meantime, courts and employers continue to encounter and balance conflicting needs and opinions about vaccinations and the workplace.