La. Supreme Court: Ochsner can fire hospital employees who don’t meet COVID vaccine mandate

Lafayette Parish

NEW ORLEANS, La. (KLFY) — The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled today that Ochsner Health can fire employees who refuse to meet its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

There were three separate cases before the court, both brought by Alexandria attorney Jimmy Faircloth on behalf of Ochsner employees in both Lafayette and Shreveport. While lower courts returned different verdicts in the two cases, today’s ruling by the La. Supreme Court makes it clear statewide: Hospitals can fire their employees if they choose not to take COVID-19 vaccines.

On Aug. 24, 2021, one day after the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was given full approval by the Federal Drug Administration, Ochsner Health issued a mandate requiring all its employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 29, 2021. That mandate included eight hospitals across Louisiana, including Ochsner Lafayette General and Ochsner LSU Health.

Those that refused would be suspended for 30 days, and after that 30-day suspension, if the employees were still not vaccinated, they would be terminated, stated the mandate.

By December 2021, Ochsner reported a 99% vaccination rate for employees, noting that 280 of their over 30,000 employees were let go after choosing to not get the COVID-19 vaccine or get the approved medical or religious exemption.

“We are pleased with the unanimous decision today from the Louisiana Supreme Court upholding the legality of Ochsner Health’s vaccination requirement,” said Ochsner Health CEO/President WArner Thomas. “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.”

Lafayette Case

In September 2021, a group of 47 Ochsner Lafayette General employees filed suit against the hospital over the mandate. Within a week, the 15th Judicial District Court had dismissed the lawsuit, saying it did not meet the “no cause for action” exception filed by Ochsner Lafayette General. Judge Thomas Frederick also found the hospital system was a private business, not a public state actor, As such, what they were requiring of their workforce was not unconstitutional.

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court upheld Judge Frederick’s original ruling. Chief Justice C.J. Weimer’s opinion is below:

Shreveport Case

Nearly identical lawsuit was filed in Caddo Parish by 39 employees of Ochsner LSU Health. Like the case filed in Lafayette, the district court initially threw out the suit. However, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in October in favor of the employees, allowing a temporary restraining order against Ochsner. The court also called for an additional hearing on the mandate.

Today’s ruling overturned the Second Circuit’s restraining order. The opinion, also rendered by Weimer, is below:

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