Mass General Brigham yesterday asked a judge to let them shield the identities of most of the members of its panels that decided which employees got religious or medical exemptions from Covid-19 shots because of what's happened to officials in other states who stood up for the vaccines and other anti-Covid-19 measures.
The request comes in a lawsuit filed by seven now former hospital employees - and one who gave in and got a shot - who say the hospital violated their rights in declaring a Nov. 5 deadline for employees to get shots. Although courts - up to the US Supreme Court - have rejected the employees' request to order the hospital chain to reinstate them immediately, they are continuing their fight through a lawsuit, which could take months or years to resolve.
The state's largest hospital network made its identity shielding request in a filing yesterday that cited attempts to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer:
People are using the internet, and social media platforms in particular, to share a deluge of information - and misinformation - about the COVID-19 vaccines. Some individuals with strong beliefs in favor of and against COVID vaccination use those same platforms to harass and threaten people. This is not a hypothetical concern – this is the next iteration of an ongoing vitriolic campaign that has been lodged by some, even against individuals who merely are doing their jobs to evaluate vaccination exemption requests and doing their best to help the country find its way through this deadly pandemic. Public health officials, elected officials, medical experts, and front-line medical providers, to name a few, have all been targeted. Earlier this year, in response to an increase in online threats and harassment directed at public health workers and their families, Colorado passed a law making it illegal for individuals to disseminate personal information about public health workers and their families online for the purpose of harassment. See Colorado Session Laws HB 21-1107 (2021). Social media comments about this very case already reflect fever-pitched and disturbing rhetoric such as analogies to Nazism, and reference to use of assault weapons.
After it announced its Nov. 5 deadline for full vaccination, Mass General Brigham set up two panels of hospital experts to consider exemption requests - one for medical requests and one for religious requests.
The names of panel members could come up during discovery - pre-trial questioning of potential witnesses - and publicly available court filings. The names of three MGB officials who led the exemption efforts have already been disclosed in court filings and hearings; the hospital did not seek to anonymize them. The hospital also asked a judge to let it hide the names of any employees who did get exemptions.
To the extent that opposing counsel needs information about the education and training of the MGB exemption decision-makers to prosecute this case, as is claimed, such information can be shared in such a way that does not reveal the identities of those individuals. MGB is not trying to be difficult - it is only trying to protect its employees from the very real threat of harassment that could follow if their identities were revealed to the Plaintiffs or the public.
More than 200 of Mass General Brigham's roughly 80,000 employees won exemptions, but the eight who sued - including a doctor and a registered nurse - were denied. All claimed religious exemptions - either because they objected to the use of cells derived from aborted fetuses decades ago to help test some vaccines or because they objected to what they claimed would be the vaccines' effects on their God-given DNA. Four also claimed medical exemptions.