Employees Opposing COVID Vaccine Mandate Get Small Win in Court, Will Keep Jobs For Now

A Louisiana appeals court ruled that the state's largest health system cannot fire or discipline Louisiana employees defying a COVID-19 vaccine requirement while the mandate's legality is debated in court, the Associated Press reported. Friday was the deadline for all of Ochsner Health's 32,000 employees across the state, as well as in a small section of Mississippi, to get fully vaccinated against the virus or face a potential firing.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport issued the ruling Thursday. State District Judge Craig Marcotte had thrown out the lawsuit against the mandate filed October 5 by dozens of employees from Ochsner's Shreveport facility, but the three-judge panel ordered him to hold a hearing for the mandate and bar its enforcement until a ruling on legality was issued, the AP reported.

Chuck Daigle, the chief executive officer of Ochsner LSU Health, said the day after the lawsuit was filed that the system stands "firmly behind the science and data that demonstrates the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination."

"We know that COVID-19 vaccination dramatically reduces transmission, severity of symptoms, hospitalizations and death," Daigle said.

Jimmy Faircloth, a lawyer representing some Ochsner employees, said in a news release earlier in the month that the vaccine mandate is an "unlawful forced choice."

"Every day we receive more calls and emails from employees around the state who are being forced to decide between taking medicine they do not want and feeding their families," Faircloth said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

COVID Vaccine Lawsuit
A Louisiana appeals court ruled that the state’s largest health system cannot fire or discipline Louisiana employees defying a COVID-19 vaccine requirement while the mandate’s legality is debated in court. Above, a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for administration at a vaccination clinic in Los Angeles on September 22. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Ochsner did not immediately comment on Friday morning.

Although the 2nd Circuit's rulings do not affect district courts outside north Louisiana, Thursday's ruling is a signal to businesses statewide that vaccine mandates are probably illegal, said Faircloth.

That's because temporary restraining orders can be made only if the people asking for them have a good chance of winning, he said.

However, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which covers 21 southwest and central parishes, on Wednesday rejected a request for a similar order and reinstatement of a lawsuit against Ochsner Lafayette General Health.

"We find no error in the trial court's ruling," the 3rd Circuit panel wrote.

Faircloth said he has asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn District Judge Thomas Frederick's dismissal of that case.

The lawsuits argue that Louisiana's constitution and laws guarantee citizens a right to decide their medical treatments.

"It is unlawful for an employer to threaten to fire an employee for exercising a legal right, or to require an employee to forego the exercise of a legal right as a condition of employment," the Shreveport lawsuit states.

Louisiana Vaccine Site
Dozens of employees from Louisiana's largest health system filed a lawsuit earlier in the month to contest a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Above, Lisbeth Fernandez with NOELA Community Health Care administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a resident in New Orleans on August 14. Mario Tama/Getty Images