Health

Houston Methodist Sued Over COVID Vax Mandate

More than 100 current and former employees of Houston Methodist are suing the medical system for mandating that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination.

Houston Methodist, a seven-hospital system, is being charged with wrongful discharge and violating a federal law dictating “that where a medical product is ‘unapproved’ then no one may be mandated to take it,” according to the lawsuit, shared with MedPage Today by the employees’ joint attorney.

The 117 plaintiffs say they have been “adversely and irrevocably harmed by the illegal policy” and are asking for a temporary injunction against firings related to the vaccine policy, and requesting a declaration to invalidate the policy altogether.

The suit cites a Texas exemption that “allows an employee to sue for wrongful termination if he is fired for the sole reason that he refused to perform an illegal act,” and argues that “plaintiffs have suffered lost wages, loss of earnings capacity, lost benefits, lost future earnings, mental anguish, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life” due to Houston Methodist carrying out the policy.

Among the plaintiffs are Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at Baytown Hospital who has spoken out against the policy and refused to follow it, and Bob Nevens, the system’s former corporate risk compliance director; he told MedPage Today he was fired recently for declining to get vaccinated.

“For the first time in the history of the United States, an employer is forcing an employee to participate in an experimental vaccine trial as a condition for continued employment,” the suit claims. Houston Methodist is requiring “employees to be injected with an experimental COVID-19 mRNA gene modification injection (‘experimental vaccine’) or be fired,” and forcing them “to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”

The suit acknowledges that FDA has issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccines. But an EUA “is not an FDA [full] approval,” it notes. “There is much the FDA does not know about these products. …Further studies need to be done and Plaintiffs should not be forced to participate in these dangerous trials as a condition for employment.”

The suit cites the Nuremberg Code as precedent, comparing the employees to prisoners of concentration camps during World War II who did not consent to having Nazi doctors experiment on them. “This, as a matter of fact, is a gene modification medical experiment on human beings, performed without informed consent. It is a severe and blatant violation of the Nuremberg Code,” it reads.

Houston Methodist and many public health experts have noted that the COVID-19 vaccines are as safe and effective as other common vaccines, including the flu vaccine, which the hospital system mandated for employees in 2009, according to a spokesperson.

Jared Woodfill of the Woodfill Law Firm in Houston is representing the plaintiffs. They are suing the Houston Methodist system, including the The Woodlands Hospital in the District Court of Montgomery County, a suburban county just north of downtown Houston.

Houston Methodist became the first major healthcare system in the U.S. to mandate all its employees get vaccinated in early April, according to CEO Marc Boom, MD. The policy was enacted to set an example and better protect clinical employees and patients, he said. In late April Boom announced that employees would be suspended and eventually fired if they did not meet vaccination deadlines set for at least a few weeks out. Houston Methodist typically has been administering the mRNA-based Pfizer/BioNTech shot.

The system is allowing employees to apply for religious or medical exemptions, but the suit claims Houston Methodist has “arbitrarily denied” such exemptions. Nevens confirmed this in a May conversation with MedPage Today.

“Exemptions are reviewed by a committee,” countered Boom in a May email to MedPage Today. “We offer them in accordance with EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] guidelines.”

Boom recently penned an editorial in MedPage Today further explaining the system’s rationale for the vaccine requirement. More than 97% of the system’s 26,000 employees have been vaccinated, it reported. Since Houston Methodist announced its mandate, at least two other large healthcare systems have announced similar mandates.

Bridges has launched a GoFundMe page to raise attorney fees and started an online petition against the policy. As of May 31, nearly 8,500 people had signed the petition and more than $24,000 had been contributed via the GoFundMe page by more than 300 people.

  • Ryan Basen reports for MedPage’s enterprise & investigative team. He has worked as a journalist for more than a decade, earning national and state honors for his investigative work. He often writes about issues concerning the practice and business of medicine. Follow

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