Loss of Job Over Religious Vax Refusal ≠ Irreparable Harm
At least according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in rejecting a doctor’s request for an order to reinstate him to his position at a hospital pending resolution of his discrimination lawsuit.
In Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc., the doctor, who objected to the COVID vaccine on religious grounds, was terminated for failing to comply with the hospital’s vaccine mandate. He sought a preliminary injunction to reinstate him while his lawsuit was proceeding. In order to receive a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must show that they will experience irreparable injury absent the injunction, among other things. The doctor argued that the termination caused him such injury because his professional skills would deteriorate within 6 months to the point he would no longer be able to work, and that he was unable to secure another position in the interim.
The Seventh Circuit found that the doctor did not suffer irreparable harm based on the anticipated loss of skills. Any deterioration was too speculative, particularly given his extensive training and past experience, as well as a lack of explanation for why a training course or two would fail to position him to resume active practice. And the Seventh Circuit went on to note that, even if such harm were to occur, Title VII provides adequate remedies – such as compensation for lost future earning capacity.
The Seventh Circuit also rejected the argument that the doctor would be irreparably harmed because of an unusually difficult job search, as the federal CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare providers pressures them to hire only vaccinated individuals. “But career jeopardy alone does not amount to irreparable harm,” according to the Seventh Circuit.
Notably, in this case, the Seventh Circuit found there was no apparent “institutional hostility towards religion,” as the employer had granted religious exemptions to other employees.
For employers with vaccine mandates – at least those in the Seventh Circuit – this case suggests that they will not be required to reinstate employees who were terminated for vaccine refusals for religious reasons while any litigation is ongoing. But it also reinforces the need for employers to consider requests for religious exemptions to COVID (and other?) vaccine mandates on an individual basis.