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Federal judge tosses lawsuit from Geisinger employees seeking to disregard COVID-19 policy

Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, Pa., offers both insurance and patient care.
Bradley C. Bower
Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, Pa., offers both insurance and patient care.

In a Tuesday decision, Chief U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann said Geisinger employees who filed a preliminary injunction failed to show they have what is called “an enforceable right” — something that would warrant a federal court to step in and interfere with a company policy.

“Our role is transcribed,” Brann wrote. “For federal judges to provide relief, parties must first show that they have an enforceable right. And if there’s no right, there can be no remedy.”

Geisinger has required its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo testing twice a week. A group of more than 100 workers has sought to avoid the testing by claiming a religious exemption. They filed the injunction to prevent the Danville-based health system from firing them for not complying.

Brann put forth several arguments in his decision to toss out the injunction. He noted they failed to show how Geisinger’s policy related to their religious beliefs or how getting tested or losing their jobs would cause “irreparable harm,” one of the legal standards for federal intervention. Legal precedent shows job loss is not considered irreparable harm, Brann said.

“Now, I’ll admit, some of what they cite seems to have merit,” Brann wrote in the introduction to his decision. “Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the vast majority of their case appears to reflect a toxic combination of motivated reasoning and misinformation — a cocktail that promises to plague this country long after COVID-19 has abated.”

He also noted that Geisinger, a private nonprofit, by definition could not be in violation of the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.

“These claims reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights afforded under the Constitution — a failing of civic education that I might sadly expect from [an] ordinary citizen, but which is inexcusable from a member of the bar.” he said.

The Geisinger doctor who is lead plaintiff in the suit couldn’t be reached for comment. Legal documents show the employees in the suit say they are being treated differently than colleagues who are vaccinated.

Geisinger declined to comment on the litigation but provided a statement:

“Our COVID-19 vaccine policy remains in place, including the testing requirement for those who received exemptions. At a time when cases continue to rise in the community and about 90% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 at Geisinger are not fully vaccinated, the number of employees testing positive and out on quarantine has been cut in half – proof this policy has been successful in ensuring that critical healthcare resources are available for all our community’s medical needs – both COVID and non-COVID.”

Read more from our partners, WITF.