The Houston Methodist Hospital system led the way as the first in the nation to require all of its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. A group of over 100 plaintiffs, including former employees who quit or were terminated, sued Houston Methodist in Texas state court, alleging that the vaccine policy violates federal statutory and regulatory provisions and that termination for refusal to comply with the policy thus constitutes wrongful discharge.
Because the case raised federal issues, Houston Methodist removed it to federal court, where the case was dismissed on the pleadings given the inapplicability of the federal provisions on which plaintiffs relied and the at-will-employment doctrine in Texas state law. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal. In light of the ongoing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Houston Methodist’s leading role in fighting the pandemic, the vaccination policy and this lawsuit garnered significant national attention.
Houston Methodist engaged Yetter Coleman to take the lead in the Fifth Circuit appeal. Just one week after hearing the case’s oral arguments, on June 13, 2022, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court’s ruling that the plaintiffs’ alleged violations of federal law are insufficient to show any violation of public policy for purposes of an at-will-employment exception. Additionally, the Fifth Circuit refused to send the case to the Texas Supreme Court, rejecting the Plaintiffs’ request that it certify a question of state law.