Governor Jay Inslee Sued by State Employees Over Vaccine Mandate

A group of Washington state police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, transit workers, and other government employees filed a lawsuit today against Democratic Governor Jay Inslee for his mandate that state employees get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18 or lose their jobs.

The lawsuit was filed on September 10 at the Walla Walla County superior court and listed more than 90 plaintiffs, according to the filing. The suit contends that Inslee's order violates their constitutional rights and oversteps the governor's legal authority.

While the order comes with medical and religious exemptions, the suit said the state made religious exemptions "as narrow as possible," adding that the order had led "their religious sincerity [to be] questioned." Others said they should be exempt from vaccination on the grounds that they tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

"The penalties for not taking affirmative action to comply with the Governor's Mandate are overly severe, punitive, and unconscionable," the filing read. "The penalty is further arbitrary and capricious were not tailored to those state employees with natural immunity by virtue of prior infection and/or the ability to perform their duties from home."

Washington State Continues Efforts To Limit Spread
A group of Washington state government employees have filed a lawsuit against Governor Jay Inslee for his vaccine mandate. Inslee announces measures to help contain the spread of coronavirus at a press conference on March 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Inslee followed many other states in instituting a vaccine mandate directed at state employees last month. What separates his mandate from others, however, is the fact that employees can be fired. Most other areas permitted employees to avoid vaccination if they agreed to undergo regular testing.

The Seattle Times reported Inslee's office remains focused on defending its decision that it believes is legally justifiable, with spokesperson Mike Faulk telling the paper that "these requirements are in full compliance with the law. We look forward to responding in court."

About 90 percent of hospitalizations and deaths in Washington state occurred in unvaccinated people, The Seattle Times reported. The latest data reported that over 61 percent of people in the state have been vaccinated, making it the ninth most vaccinated state in the country.

The United States currently averages more than 1,650 COVID-19 deaths per week and more than 146,000 new cases. The FDA recently offered approval to the Pfizer vaccine with the Moderna shot expected to follow.

With the contagious Delta variant accounting for over 99 percent of all new cases, the virus continues to spread rapidly throughout unvaccinated communities. By boosting vaccination rates, Inslee hopes to prevent further devastation.

"Those who do not have the vaccine today have targets on their backs," Inslee said during a July address. "The Delta variant is chasing them."