LOS ANGELES – A judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by five Los Angeles County workers who sued their employer, alleging that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for county workers is unconstitutional.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gail Killefer heard arguments on a motion by county attorneys to toss the case, then briefly took the issues under submission before issuing her ruling dismissing all three causes of action for declaratory and injunctive relief, two under the Emergency Services Act and one under the state constitution.
County attorneys maintained in their court papers that compulsory vaccination is different from compulsory medical procedures because the spread of contagious disease is a matter of public health rather than one of individual freedom. Refusing a vaccine impacts not just the individual making the choice, but also the public because vaccines help prevent disease outbreaks only if a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, according to the county attorneys’ court papers.
Then-Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis issued an executive order in August 2021 requiring the county’s 110,000 employees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19, with exemptions for medical and religious reasons. Supervisors ratified her order six days later, making it official county policy.
However, according to the lawsuit originally filed in October 2021 and twice amended after that, 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 stated.
None of the plaintiffs complied with the vaccine order, the suit stated.
“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 included Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees Vincent Tsai and Oscar Rodriguez. Tsai, a deputy sheriff and a Republican, came in second in the 22nd state Senate District race behind incumbent Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, in last June’s primary elections.
Other plaintiffs were 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 stated. “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 stated. “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 or do not wish to comply with the county’s forced disclosure requirement and digital surveillance.”
The lawsuit also stated that “all county employees, like all competent adults in California, have a legally protected privacy interest in their bodily integrity.”
The workers’ expectation of privacy is “reasonable under the circumstances” as the county has “never had a vaccination requirement for public employment before now and the county has never disciplined, much less fired, a county employee for declining an injection,” the suit stated.