A federal judge over the weekend dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 employees of a Houston-based hospital system, who, among other things, claimed that the hospital’s requirement that staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 was akin to medical atrocities carried out by Nazis.
US District Judge Lynn Hughes called that argument “reprehensible” and issued sweeping rejections of their other claims that the mandate violates state and federal laws. In the five-page ruling filed Saturday, Judge Hughes wrote that the lawsuit by the 117 employees—led by coronavirus-unit nurse Jennifer Bridges—contained false statements, misconstrued legal provisions, wrongly claimed coercion, and made otherwise invalid arguments.
Houston Methodist Hospital system issued a mandate April 1 that all staff must be vaccinated against the pandemic coronavirus. Though the vast majority of the hospital system’s nearly 26,000 employees readily complied, 178 did not meet the June 7 deadline and were suspended for two unpaid weeks. If they fail to get fully vaccinated in that window, they face termination.
Prior to the deadline, Bridges and 116 of her colleagues had filed their lawsuit. Bridges, a nurse at the hospital for over six years who worked in the coronavirus unit during the pandemic, was a vocal leader of the vaccination holdouts and one of those suspended beginning June 8. In an interview in May, she said she was “not anti-vaccine. I’ve had every vaccine known to man, except this one.” But, she added, “as nurses and medical staff, everybody feels like you should have a right to choose what you put in your body.”
A central argument in their legal claim was that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration—the regulator issued emergency use authorizations, instead. Bridges and her like-minded colleagues argued that it is against federal law to mandate “unapproved” medicines and that, thus, she and her colleagues were forced to be “human subjects” in a clinical trial. Judge Hughes noted that the federal provision they referenced applies to governments, not private employers, and that their claims “misrepresented the facts.” Judge Hughes noted that “the hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial.”
In the most eyebrow-raising claim, the hospital staff argued that the mandate violates the Nuremberg Code, which is a set of 10 principles for conducting human experimentation ethically. The principles were written in response to atrocities carried out by Nazis during World War II.
“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” the judge wrote. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases death.”
He went on:
Although her claims fail as a matter of law, it is also necessary to clarify that Bridges has not been coerced… 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… This is all part of the bargain.
Judge Hughes also noted that on May 28, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that employers can mandate COVID-19 vaccination, given reasonable accommodations.
Jared Woodfill, a lawyer representing Bridges and her colleagues, told NPR that they plan to appeal the decision. In a curious statement, Woodfill noted that many of the plaintiffs are frontline workers who put themselves at risk of getting COVID-19. “As a thank you for their service and sacrifice, Methodist Hospital awards them a pink slip and sentences them to bankruptcy.”
A statement from Houston Methodist said that the hospital system is “pleased and reassured” by the dismissal of the “frivolous” lawsuit.