Louisiana Supreme Court upholds employer’s vaccine mandate

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Friday for the state’s largest health care system.

The ruling came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over the Biden administration’s order requiring companies with at least 100 employees to demand vaccinations or tests.

Louisiana’s highest court says Ochsner Health employees have no legal reason to sue because state gives employers the right to fire anyone as long as the reason does not violate other laws or the state or federal constitution.

“Some fights are worth it,” wrote Jimmy Faircloth, who filed separate complaints for Ochsner employees at Lafayette and Shreveport, in an email. He said his clients are disappointed but always understood the issue was related to the legislature.

Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner, said officials were happy with the unanimous decision.

“Ochsner Health remains committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients, team members, and all people in the communities we serve, and this decision supports our right to adopt policies that protect patients and patients. staff at our facilities across Louisiana, ”he said.

Louisiana’s COVID-19 count continued to rise on Friday. Some 1,521 patients have been hospitalized in the state, including 68 on ventilators, and authorities said there were 16 deaths – up from 12 – in the 24 hours ending at noon Friday. The state reported 14,802 new cases in 24 hours.

Lawsuits filed in October also argued that the coronavirus vaccination mandate violated employees’ privacy rights under the Louisiana constitution.

“In addition to the use of economic coercion, Ochsner expressly uses the use of stigma and ridicule to drive the warrant, requiring employees to display their vaccination status on public display,” the lawsuit said. at Caddo Parish.

Louisiana judges have said state and federal courts have always held that Louisiana’s constitutional right to privacy protects people from governments.

“This court declines the invitation to extend the scope (…) to restrict private actors,” said the opinion written by Chief Justice John Weimer.

Faircloth said this gives private employers the power “to impose restrictions on medical treatment on employees for any reason, without explanation or justification.” It is uncharted territory for personal autonomy.

Shreveport Ochsner employees opposed to the vaccine requirement won a decision by the state’s 2nd Circuit Appeals Court, which blocked the system requirement. But a state judge in the Lafayette region refused to do so.

Ochsner said in early December that he laid off 280 employees who refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to seek an exemption. He said 180 were contract workers called in when needed. Ochsner said nearly 99% of its 30,000 employees had complied with the vaccination policy.