Thursday, March 21, 2024

Sixth Circuit Says Certain Religious Objectors Have Standing to Challenge Vaccine Mandate

The Sixth Circuit ruled that two religious objectors to a Cleveland, Ohio, hospital's COVID-19 vaccine mandate had standing to sue the hospital for a violation of Title VII, while dozens of other objectors didn't. The difference turned on whether each objector actually resigned, and, if so, whether each objector's resignation was a "constructive discharge," which, in turn, depended on when each resigned.

The case, Savel v. MetroHealth System, tested the hospital's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees. The hospital accepted applications for religious exemptions, then categorically denied all religious exemptions, telling objectors that they had 45 days to get a vaccine or be fired. But nine days short of the vaccine deadline, the hospital reversed course and granted all requests for religious exemptions.

Employees sued, arguing that the mandate violated Title VII. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing or, in the alternative, failure to state a claim.

The Sixth Circuit agreed that most of the plaintiffs lacked standing. The court first noted that most of the plaintiffs were still employed by the hospital. It said that those plaintiffs' alleged injuries (severe mental anguish and the looming threat of losing their job if the hospital were to reinstate the mandate) were "too conclusory" and "contingent on future events that may never come to pass." Of the remaining plaintiffs, the court noted that most of them resigned after submitting exemption requests, but before the hospital denied them, and therefore failed to "support a theory of constructive discharge."

But the court said that two plaintiffs had standing. These two only resigned after the hospital denied their requests for exemptions, but before the 45-day deadline for getting a vaccine. The court said that these resignations amounted to constructive discharges, because "the forty-five day window was not an uncertain process that may or may not end in discharge." To the contrary, the "facts plausibly allege that [the hospital] communicated to Plaintiffs 1 and 2 that they would be terminated after forty-five days if they refused to be vaccinated on religious grounds."

At the same time, though, the court noted that these plaintiffs "may lack standing at a latter phase of this litigation based on additional evidence about the certainty of termination."

The ruling sends the case back to the district court for further proceedings on these two plaintiffs' claims.

Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink


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