Lawsuit Over Houston Methodist's COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Thrown Out By Federal Judge [UPDATED]

Protesters gathered outside Houston Methodist's Baytown location on June 7 to decry the hospital's COVID vaccine policy.
Protesters gathered outside Houston Methodist's Baytown location on June 7 to decry the hospital's COVID vaccine policy. Photo by Schaefer Edwards
Houston Methodist scored a legal victory Saturday night against a group of over 100 disgruntled employees when a federal judge threw out those workers’ lawsuit against the hospital chain over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes, the Ronald Reagan appointee who dismissed the lawsuit against Houston Methodist, said in his decision that the claims of 117 employees who sued over the hospital’s vaccine policy didn’t stand up to legal scrutiny, and that Houston Methodist’s president and CEO Dr. Marc Boom was well within his rights to require his workforce to take any of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

The lawsuit effort has been led by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at Houston Methodist’s Baytown hospital who has worked to rally support for herself and her soon-to-be former colleagues who have refused to get vaccinated. Bridges is one of 178 Houston Methodist employees who didn’t get vaccinated by the hospital’s June 7 deadline, all of whom were then put on two-week unpaid suspensions. They’ll be fired on June 21 if they still haven’t taken a COVID-19 vaccine.

The overwhelming majority of Houston Methodist’s 26,000 employees complied with the vaccine requirement before the deadline, while 617 workers were allowed to forgo vaccination for religious and medical reasons.

“Bridges says that she is being forced to be injected with a vaccine or be fired. This is not coercion,” Hughes wrote in his decision. “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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Houston Press Sunday about the dismissal of her lawsuit.

She previously claimed she was waiting until more research had been done on the vaccines before taking one, but told the Press in May that she’d decided there was nothing at all that could convince her to take any of the three coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I will never take that vaccine. Ever, ever, ever,” she said.

Hughes was particularly outraged about the lawsuit’s claim that Houston Methodist’s vaccine policy violated the Nuremberg Code, the post-World War II set of medical ethics rules created to hopefully prevent unconscionable medical experiments like those perpetrated by Nazi scientists.

For starters, Hughes explained in his decision, the Nuremberg Code applies to governments, not private employers.

Even if the Nuremberg Code was somehow relevant to this case, “Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes wrote, given that “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiment on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death,” whereas the three available COVID-19 vaccines have been safely administered to over 300 million United States residents and millions more around the world.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible.” — Federal Judge Lynn Hughes

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In a statement issued late Saturday night, Boom expressed his relief that Hughes decided to toss out the lawsuit. “We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,” he said.

“All our employees have now met the requirements of the vaccine policy and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Boom continued. “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do. They have fulfilled their sacred obligation as health care workers, and we couldn’t ask for a more dedicated, caring and talented team.”

Hughes' dismissal order is embedded below.
Updated 6:46 p.m.:

On Sunday evening, Bridges told the Press she and her lawyer, local conservative activist Jared Woodfill, weren’t surprised that Hughes dismissed their lawsuit. She said Woodfill is already working on filing an appeal, and insisted that “this is only just the beginning.”

“The legal part, I’m definitely leaving up to him. But we do plan on this going all the way up to the Supreme Court,” Bridges said.

While Woodfill handles the appeal process, Bridges has begun planning another protest against Houston Methodist, set for June 26 in front of the hospital’s headquarters on Fannin Street in the medical center.

She said the timing of Saturday’s ruling meant there wasn’t even an outside chance a judge could step in to block Houston Methodist from firing her and her unvaccinated colleagues before the end of their unpaid suspensions on June 21 at this point.

“We didn’t get granted the injunction or anything, so we will all get terminated,” Bridges said. “That’s definitely going to happen, but we’ve all kind of prepared for that and we’re okay with that. Personally, me and everybody else, we really don’t want to set foot back in there anyways. We’re all ready to move on.”

“This was just the first little part of this, but this is going to go on probably for quite a while,” Bridges said. “There’s definitely no slowing down.”
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards