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Lawsuits on employment during COVID continue despite most mandates dropped, 4,500-plus still active

There are 8,739 cases that have been filed in the U.S. since 2020 against state and federal employers over the COVID pandemic.

Published: July 22, 2023 11:08pm

Updated: July 24, 2023 2:41pm

While most COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been dropped, employment lawsuits related to the pandemic, including ones on not getting vaccinated, continue to be litigated and filed. 

The Biden administration dropped its vaccine requirement for federal workers May 11, the same day the COVID public health emergency ended. And many states and businesses have done the same amid litigation over the legality of their requirements, or mandates.

Yet as of last week, there were still 4,544 active, pandemic-related employment cases from the 8,739 that had been filed since Jan. 1, 2020, according to the Fisher Phillips COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker.

The highest number of cases filed – 2,724 – are employment-discrimination complaints, of which just 18% have been resolved, the lowest percentage of about 15 categories including ones for COVID-related federal legislation, remote work, wrongful terminations and unsafe workplaces.

In just the past 30 days, 96 cases alone have been filed in California, Michigan and New York, the tracker also shows.

Over 1,920 cases filed, the second highest, are related to the vaccine. 

Legal nonprofits such as Liberty Counsel and First Liberty Institute continue to litigate cases for clients who are suing former employers over being fired for not receiving the vaccine because of their religious beliefs.

For example, Maine still has its COVID vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, which the state’s Department of Health and Human Services proposed earlier this month to be removed. Following the rule’s publishing and time for public comment, it is expected to be adopted later this year.

Liberty Counsel represents seven healthcare workers from the state who lost their job after their religious exemptions for the vaccine mandate were denied. In that case, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in May that the district court had incorrectly dismissed the plaintiffs’ First Amendment and Equal Protection claims, sending the case back to the district court.

Similarly, Liberty Counsel is in a court battle before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with the state of New York over its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

In that case, the workers were also denied their religious exemption requests to the COVID mandate, despite medical exemptions to the mandate being approved.

Earlier this month, the legal nonprofit submitted a court filing in response to the state's claim that its proposed repeal of the COVID-19 shot mandate makes a lawsuit "moot."

Liberty Counsel argues in its filing that its clients have suffered irreparable harm because they lost their jobs due to their religious exemptions being denied for the mandate.

Meanwhile, First Liberty Institute continues to fight the Biden administration in court over the military COVID vaccine mandate that was rescinded late last year, after Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act that repealed the mandate.

First Liberty Institute has argued that by denying Navy SEALs and sailors their religious accommodation requests to the COVID vaccine mandate, the military branch violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In that case, Navy SEALs v. Biden, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month denied the plaintiffs' attempt to get a preliminary injunction against the Defense Department and the secretary of the Navy for punishing or discharging the branch's service members, also saying the complaint was "moot"  because the mandate was repealed by Congress and the Navy.

“We are extremely surprised and disappointed that the court gave the Navy’s horrible treatment of our nation’s finest warriors a free pass," said First Liberty CEO, President and chief counsel Kelly Shackelford said in response to the ruling. "We have defeated the Navy at every stage, and now that Congress forced the Navy to comply with the Constitution the Navy is running scared.”

The case will continue in the district court.

The Navy told Just the News that it "does not comment on matters of ongoing litigation."

First Liberty Institute Vice President Mike Berry told Just the News on Friday, “The Navy never made an admission that it was wrong,” nor has it offered an apology to sailors who were negatively affected by the vaccine mandate.

He also said many service members have missed opportunities to be promoted and to attend specialized schools for advancement as well as suffering "stigmatic harm."

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