Five Los Angeles County employees who sued their employer, alleging the coronavirus vaccine mandate for county workers issued by executive order in August and ratified by the Board of Supervisors is unconstitutional, will have to shore up their legal arguments for the case to proceed, a judge ruled.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard J. Burdge Jr. on Wednesday did not go along with a request by lawyers for the county to dismiss the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which also alleges the directive exceeds the county’s power under the Emergency Services Act and was implemented during proceedings that violated the state’s open-meeting law.
The judge instead gave the plaintiffs 30 days to file an amended lawsuit.
In their court papers, lawyers for the county disputed the plaintiffs’ claims that the vaccine order violates their right to privacy under the California Constitution, saying such mandates “have been recognized as a reasonable exercise of government power in California under the applicable standard of rational basis review for 100 years, and most recently in 2018. The county’s mandate is no different.”
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis issued an executive order on Aug. 4 requiring the county’s 110,000 employees to provide proof of vaccination, with exemptions for medical and religious reasons. The Board of Supervisors ratified her order six days later, making it official county policy. However, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 1, thousands of county employees have not complied.
“They will risk their jobs rather than violate their conscience and follow a plainly unlawful order,” the suit states.
None of the plaintiffs has complied with the vaccine order, the suit states.
“The county must consider and offer reasonable accommodations as a middle ground between individual freedoms and collective rights,” the suit states. “It did not do that. Instead, it viewed this sensitive personal issue through the lens of partisan politics.”
The plaintiffs are Sheriff’s Department employees Vincent Tsai and Oscar Rodriguez; Probation Department worker Enrique Iribe; Sanitation Department employee Mohamed Bina; Department of Public Health worker Shayne Lamont; and the nonprofit group Protection for the Educational Rights of Kids, which advocates for civil rights, bodily autonomy, medical freedom and other rights, with a particular focus on children and parental rights, according to the suit.
“PERK joined this lawsuit because of the devastating effect the county’s unlawful mandate would have on children and families in Los Angeles,” the suit states. “County residents cannot afford to lose thousands of public employees on a whim. They would be unable to obtain critical public services, including social services that kids and families depend on.”
The county “cannot just get rid of the unvaccinated employees who Ms. Solis chastised for not doing their part to end the pandemic,” the suit states. “It will have to provide hearings to everybody. It will have to justify each adverse employment action. This will cost an enormous amount of time and money, as thousands of county employees have either chosen not to take the COVID-19 shots.”
The suit also maintains the public was given insufficient notice of Solis’ executive order.