The state Supreme Court has ruled in two Louisiana cases involving hospitals that want to terminate employees who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and in both cases agrees with the hospitals.
The Court agreed with the trial court in two cases, one in Lafayette and the other in Shreveport. Both were filed by the Alexandria attorney and former Bobby Jindal staffer, Jimmy Faircloth, who set up a website seeking plaintiffs and donations to fund the effort.
In the Lafayette case, employees brought suit against Ochsner Lafayette General, questioning the legality of the health system's policy that all employees without a verified exemption must take the vaccinations or lose their jobs. The state district court dismissed the suit in September. To read about that, click here.
The state Supreme Court agreed with the trial court, affirming that decision.
"This matter arises from a suit challenging a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which allows medical and religious exceptions, implemented by a private employer healthcare provider. The issue presented is whether the employees of the private healthcare provider stated a cause of action for constitutional and statutory violations entitling the employees to injunctive and declaratory relief," the decision states.
The trial court dismissed the suit, and the state Supreme Court agreed. You can read the ruling below.
In the Shreveport case, which was filed by employees against University Health Shreveport and St. Mary Medical Center, both also run by the Ochsner system, the trial court also dismissed the case. But, in that case, an appeals court reversed it.
The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed that ruling - in effect, reversing the appeals court's reversal of the original ruling.
"This matter is resolved by the application of the employment at-will doctrine, which is rooted in Louisiana Civil Code article 2747," the Supreme Court opinion states. "This provision has been uniformly held to reflect employment at will—which means an employer is at liberty to dismiss an at-will employee and, reciprocally, the employee is at liberty to leave the employment to seek other opportunities. However, these rights are tempered by federal and state provisions, both statutory and constitutional, but no such exceptions apply here. Employees have no statutory claim under La. R.S. 40:1159.7 because there is no healthcare provider-patient relationship alleged here. Employees likewise have no constitutional claim under La. Const. art. I, § 5 because the employer is a private actor, and this constitutional provision only limits governmental actors.
"Accordingly, the decision of the court of appeal is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated."
One of the points of the plaintiffs' arguments was that Louisiana law states they could not be forced to undergo medical treatment they didn't agree to. The Court addressed this, saying that law is clearly meant to address the relationship between a medical provider and a patient - not an employer and an employee.
The Court states that, in general, each of the plaintiffs' claims are overcome by the state's at-will employment laws.
"For the foregoing reasons, no exception to this state’s at-will employment doctrine applies in this matter," the opinion states. "In the absence of the existence of any statutory or constitutional rights that temper the application of that doctrine... this court finds Employer is entitled to terminate Employees for failure to comply with the vaccine mandate."
Ochsner Health released a statement on the court ruling:
“We are pleased with the unanimous decision today from the Louisiana Supreme Court upholding the legality of Ochsner Health’s vaccination requirement.
Ochsner Health remains committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients, team members and everyone across the communities we serve, and this decision supports our right to enact policies that protect patients and staff at our facilities across Louisiana.
As we are currently experiencing a new surge due to the Omicron variant, we continue to keep the health and safety of our patients and team members a top priority.”
--- Warner Thomas, President and CEO, Ochsner Health
Faircloth also provided his comments on the the Supreme Courts decision:
"Some fights are worth it. Though our clients are disappointed in the decision, they have always understood that the issue was bound for the legislature. By dismissing the case without performing the traditional balancing test for privacy claims, the court has granted authority for private employers to place medical treatment restrictions on employees for any reason, without explanation or rationale. This is uncharted territory for personal autonomy. There will be no shortage of co-authors for an “Medical Rights Act” in the upcoming session."
Here are the full opinions, if you'd like to read for yourself: