Court says hospital cannot fire unvaccinated workers while mandate is challenged

Published 10:02 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

Louisiana’s largest health system cannot fire or otherwise discipline north Louisiana employees who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while the mandate’s legality is in court, a state appeals court says.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport ruled Thursday, just a day before Ochsner Health’s Friday deadline for its 32,000 employees across Louisiana and in a small part of Mississippi to be fully vaccinated or face dismissal.

State District Judge Craig Marcotte had thrown out a lawsuit brought Oct. 5 by dozens of employees at Ochsner’s Shreveport location. The three-judge appellate panel ordered him to hold a hearing on the mandate and to block enforcement until its legality is decided.

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Ochsner did not immediately comment 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 Jimmy Faircloth, attorney for some of the workers who filed the suit.

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.