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Court again denies immediate return to jobs for Mass General Brigham employees who refused Covid-19 shots

For the second time in five months, a federal court has ruled that Mass General Brigham employees who refused to get Covid-19 shots are not entitled to their jobs or pay back while their lawsuit over their firings or decisions to quit wends through the court system.

In a ruling today, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said that the workers had failed to meet the legal definition of "irreparable harm" for their firings last fall, which would be required for an injunction to make the hospital system take them back on at least until a jury decides their case. Instead, the court concluded, what they are seeking is "a quintessential pocketbook injury," one that, if proved, would be remedied through a financial settlement following a trial. Under a court calendar, the earliest their case, involving allegations of religious and due-process rights, could come to trial is next year.

The roughly 220 employees sued last October, before a Mass General Brigham deadline for its employees to show proof of full vaccination against the virus if they'd been denied an exemption for health or religious reasons. A judge in US District Court denied their request for an injunction to require the hospital to hire them back while their case was pending. The appeals court upheld that ruling and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In a new ruling today, the appeals court said nothing has changed, that in a new filing, the employees' lawyer "made virtually no effort to show irreparable harm," but instead "largely repeated" the same arguments the courts had already rejected.

Appellants assert as irreparable harms loss of income, loss of benefits, emotional distress, and chilled religious exercise. The first two harms are "external factors common to most discharged employees." See Sampson, 415 U.S. at 92. Deprivation of income (both in the form of wages and of benefits) is a quintessential pocketbook injury, which money damages can remedy. Appellants attempt to classify their injuries as irreparable by reframing the harm they suffer as the loss of things they can no longer afford. But artful pleading cannot not transform ordinary harm into the basis for an injunction. Further, "the fact that an employee may be psychologically troubled by an adverse job action does not usually constitute irreparable injury warranting injunctive relief." DeNovellis v. Shalala, 135 F.3d 58, 64 (1st Cir. 1998).

PDF icon Complete ruling83.56 KB


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