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Nurse will sue Houston Methodist over COVID vaccine requirement

During its first virtual hearing about COVID-19 and the workplace, the EEOC heard concerns about how employers can require the vaccine.

HOUSTON — A registered nurse who has worked for Houston Methodist for more than six years is planning to take the hospital to court.

Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Boom said Methodist is the first the hospital in America to require all employees get one of the three COVID-19 vaccines. If a person fails to follow the mandate or have a medical or religious exemption approved by the hospital, they could be fired.

Nurse Jennifer Bridges said she just isn’t ready to receive the vaccine. Last Friday, Bridges told KHOU11 she wants more time so the FDA can gather more data and research. None of the three vaccines are fully approved by the FDA. Each one has received emergency authorization for use during the global pandemic.

A lawsuit might help Bridges fight the hospital’s June 7 deadline. Bridges shared on her GoFundMe page that legal action is now pending. It comes at the same time the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held its first virtual hearing to discuss how COVID-19 has and continues to affect American workplaces.

The virtual hearing wrapped up after hours of testimony, which included concerns about how employers can require the vaccine.

“It is something that they are actively considering,” said Michael Eastman, a senior vice president for the Center for Workplace Compliance. “The Commission should clarify its existing guidance to state that employers may instate a mandatory vaccine policy.”

CLICK HERE to read EEOC Workplace Guidance on COVID-19 vaccines

In December 2020, as the first vaccines were rolling out across America, the EEOC posted guidance online about vaccines and the workplace. The federal commission does not consider a vaccine a medical examination, so an employer can require a COVID-19 shot. The case for a mandate is stronger if getting the vaccine is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

According to the EEOC, an employer can even ask to see proof because the vaccine card doesn’t include details about a person’s disability.

The EEOC states an employer must allow for medical or religious exemptions.

“All we’re asking is: just more time,” Bridges said during a Zoom interview with KHOU11 on Monday. “In the meantime, we’ll wear N-95s, face shields. We’ll do what the CDC says is perfectly safe.”

That doesn’t fly with Boom.

“We’re never going to make anybody take the vaccine. But at the end of the day if they choose not to take the vaccine there are many other places they can work,” he said.

Of the estimated 26,000 Houston Methodist employees required to get a COVID-19 vaccine by June 7, Boom said Bridges is among the estimated 3,000 employees who are still holding out.

“It’s not a surprise that there are some people who don’t want to take the vaccine. That’s ultimately anybody’s right,” Boom said during a Zoom interview with KHOU11 on Monday. “But it’s also our right as an employer and particularly a healthcare institution to where we have a sacred obligation to care for our patients and to keep them safe.”

Bridges, who was honored by Houston Methodist for her “dedicated service” in October 2019, continues to gain support from people all over the world.

 Thousands have signed a Change.org petition titled: Covid Vaccine should not be Mandatory or Termination!!

On Tuesday, Bridges launched a crowd-sourcing GoFundMe campaign where she shares this message: 

A lot of you know me by now. My name is Jennifer. I'm helping to fight for the rights of the employees of Houston Methodist. They will terminate us if we do not comply with taking the covid vaccine by June 7th. Whether we are comfortable with it or not they do not care. We are simply asking for more time, proper research, and fully FDA approved before injecting it into our bodies. Every approach so far we have tried does not work with them. They have clearly showed they do not value their employees. Help us fight this battle by giving us the power to have a lawsuit against them! It is already in play and we have a lot of employees on board with it. It will take a while and possibly become expensive. Every dollar will help us fight this!

With less than six weeks until the deadline, Bridges’ next move may play out in court as the EEOC works to clarify its own fine print.