NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s largest health system expressed disappointment with an appellate court’s order blocking its decision to fire or discipline north Louisiana employees who refuse its mandate to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“This ruling is inconsistent with established Louisiana law as well as with decisions of courts across the country upholding COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Ochsner Health President and CEO Warner Thomas said in a statement. “Ochsner Health intends to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court and is confident we will prevail.”
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport ruled on 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.
In light of the court’s decision, Thomas said, “we are deferring our compliance deadline for all Ochsner LSU Health employees across facilities in Shreveport and Monroe until the matter is settled.”
That includes deferring the requirement for all those unvaccinated to get tested weekly for COVID-19 starting Monday.
All employees will continue to be required to wear masks, Thomas noted.
“Those who are not vaccinated are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated or to request a religious or medical exemption where applicable,” he said.
Although the 2nd Circuit’s rulings do not affect district courts outside north Louisiana, the ruling is a signal to businesses statewide that vaccine mandates are probably illegal, said Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney for some of the workers who filed the suit.
He said the fact that a temporary restraining order was even issued signaled the likelihood that the plaintiffs have a good chance of prevailing.
However, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which covers 21 southwest and central Louisiana 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 had written.
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.