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UPDATE 1-Judge tosses Houston hospital workers' lawsuit over vaccine requirement

·2 min read

(Adds comment from lawyer for workers who sued)

By Karen Freifeld

June 13 (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 workers at a Texas hospital over its requirement that they be vaccinated against COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes upheld Houston Methodist Hospital's policy mandating employees be vaccinated, in a ruling issued on Saturday.

Jennifer Bridges, a nurse and the lead plaintiff in the case, had argued that if she was fired for refusing a vaccine, it should be considered wrongful termination. She also said the vaccines are experimental and dangerous.

The judge did not find merit in either argument.

"Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus," Hughes wrote in a five-page decision. "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."

The judge said Texas law only protected employees from being fired for refusing to commit an illegal act and that the requirement is consistent with public policy.

Three vaccines received emergency authorization in the United States, though they have not received full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also said last month that U.S. companies can mandate that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 with certain exceptions.

A lawyer for the workers who sued plans to appeal. "This legal battle has only just begun," the lawyer, Jared Woodfill, said in an email. "Employment should not be conditioned upon whether you will agree to serve as a human guinea pig."

In a statement, Houston Methodist called the lawsuit frivolous and said it was pleased with the judge's decision. It noted that 24,947 hospital employees have met the vaccine requirements.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)