Arizona attorney general sues Tucson, says its vaccine mandate violates civil rights

Suit says city violated Arizona law, discriminated against employees by not honoring religious and disability-related exemptions.

Updated: September 1, 2022 - 6:41am

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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Tucson over its COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

The Attorney General’s office says the city violated Arizona law and discriminated against Tucson employees by not honoring religious and disability-related medical exemptions to the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

The Attorney General’s office says that several city employees reached out to make the same complaint. As a result, the Arizona Civil Rights Division filed a divisional charge alleging Tucson “discriminated against its employees based on religion or disability and retaliated against its employees who engaged in protected activity under the Arizona Civil Rights Act (ACRA),” according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office.

“Tucson dictated a widespread vaccine mandate without regard to its impact on the liberties and civil rights of its employees,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in the press release. “Many of those affected are first responders, and it’s our turn to be there for them. The city’s misguided vaccine mandate is an ugly example of government overreach that we must vigorously oppose.”

In August last year, Tucson enacted a coronavirus vaccine mandate for its more than 4,000 employees. They could also apply for a religious or medical exemption if they chose.

“Tucson purposefully and punitively implemented a mandatory vaccine requirement for all of its employees, putting their employment in jeopardy, in a malicious effort to head off impending Arizona legislation that would have prohibited Tucson’s efforts to require the COVID-19 vaccine,” the Attorney General’s office wrote in its press release.

The lawsuit alleges that the city planned to give employees three business days to get vaccinated or to submit an exemption or accommodation request. The city ended up extending the deadline but placed the unvaccinated on unpaid suspension “regardless of whether their accommodation or exemption requests were pending or approved,” according to the press release.

The lawsuit also says the city issued 40-hour or 60-hour unpaid suspensions to employees. It says most of them were employed by the police and fire departments. The Attorney General’s office adds that those departments “had been or were engaging in an interactive process, alleging that the unpaid suspension was warranted because it was insubordinate of them to miss the initial yet arbitrary deadline.”

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Tucson “imposed adverse, retaliatory actions against its employees who engaged in protected activities and limited, segregated, and classified them due to their religion or disability,” according to the press release.

“Tucson claimed the adverse terms and conditions were ‘incentives’ for vaccination, but Tucson knew and admitted that the employees who had approved accommodations based on religion, medical condition, or disability would not be incentivized to get a vaccine,” the press release says.

The Arizona Attorney General’s office urges those who feel as though their civil rights have been violated to contact the AGO’s Civil Rights Division in Phoenix at (602) 542-5263, Tucson at (520) 628-6500, or toll-free (877) 491-5742 or fill out an intake questionnaire at AGO’s civil rights online intake questionnaire.

A spokesperson for the city of Tucson could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.