By William Patrick | The Center Square
(The Center Square) – A Lafayette Parish judge has dismissed a lawsuit against one of Louisiana’s largest regional health systems, where dozens of employees sued over a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Ochsner Lafayette General employs 4,500 health care workers and staff across seven south Louisiana hospitals. The hospital chain’s management presented a choice for employees in August: get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or get fired.
An ensuing dispute came to a head, however, when 48 Ochsner medical professionals and staff members, represented by an attorney who once served as executive counsel former Gov. Bobby Jindal, filed a lawsuit in the 15th Judicial District Court.
Judge Thomas Frederick, however, rejected the entire legal challenge Thursday after three hours of oral arguments.
Frederick said at the outset of the hearing the case was “a legal issue,” and he would decline to address any medical and scientific arguments outlined in the plaintiffs’ complaint.
Specifically, did the vaccine mandate transgress a “no cause for action” employment exception and cause the health care workers an irreparable injury. The judge ruled it did not.
Frederick also said Ochsner Lafayette General is a private employer, as opposed to a public employer or agent of the government, and, therefore, acted within its rights to impose the vaccine mandate and its employment consequences for noncompliance.
Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney representing the Ochsner employees, had anticipated the argument in the plaintiffs’ complaint but to no avail.
“Terminating an employee for exercising his or her right to refuse medical care is facially unlawful, regardless of the nature of the employment. This even applies to ‘at will’ employees, who are the least protected by law,” the lawsuit said.
Faircloth told reporters after the ruling he will appeal the decision.
“Everybody knew that this is the first step, and this is not an easy fight,” Faircloth said. “This is a tough fight. You have to come out and you have beat the system to do this. So this is just one round.
“There’s going to be suits filed all over the state. There are going to be other district judges that rule on these identical issues, and it is going to go through multiple courts of appeal before it gets to the Supreme Court.”
The Ochsner lawsuit was one of two Faircloth filed on behalf of Louisiana hospital workers facing COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The other lawsuit is against Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, one of the largest in the state.
The Our Lady of Lourdes case will be heard on Thursday by Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett of the 15th Judicial District Court. The complaint mirrors the allegations made against Ochsner, while Our Lady of Lourdes maintains its employee vaccine policy is “consistent with the law and appropriate to the circumstances.”