539 FIREFIGHTERS v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES — INTRODUCTION

Firefighters4Freedom Foundation, a California non-profit foundation, has filed with and on behalf of 539 Los Angeles City Firefighters a complaint to block the City’s mandatory Covid vaccination ordinance.  The complaint can be read here.

The introduction to the complaint is as follows:

INTRODUCTION

  1. The Covid-19 pandemic has been running for more than a year and a half. For the majority of that time, schools were shut. Businesses were forced to close. Even government agencies operated “remotely,” meeting by phone or videoconference to conduct the public’s business.
  2. But while others were inside protecting their own health, firefighters stepped to the frontlines of the pandemic, selflessly protecting citizens of this City. For their trouble, 1079 Los Angeles City firefighters either contracted or were impacted by Covid—one-third of the entire force. Aside from all else written below, these men and women have earned the right—through their willing acceptance of Covid risk in helping others—to have a say in whether to take the experimental Covid vaccines into their own bodies; particularly where: (a) reasonable accommodations clearly exist for a middle-ground solution between privacy rights and public rights, and (b) current evidence suggests current vaccines may actually exacerbate spread of the Delta variant of the Covid virus, not stop it.
  3. Notwithstanding, Firefighters are now pawns in a political chess match, ordered by thirteen politicians on the Los Angeles City Council to inject themselves with an experimental vaccine–over their objections–or lose their jobs.
  4. As will be shown at the time of trial and in preliminary hearings, the City does not have the Constitutional authority to force anyone to take an experimental vaccine against his or her will without considering, and granting where possible, reasonable accommodations for those who chose to not take the vaccine. The City does not have that power as an employer. It does not have that power as the sovereign. It does not have that power under normal times, nor during an emergency.
  5. And, to be clear, Covid-19 no longer poses the immediate threat to that it may have posed last spring. Covid data for Los Angeles County posted Sept. 11, 2021, showed a 37% decrease in new cases and a 26.14% decrease in new hospital admissions. Further, as of September 12, 2021, Los Angeles Metro System returned to pre-pandemic service levels. Even the Governor has rescinded 90 percent of his emergency Covid orders. There is no basis for the City’s rushed and ill-conceived mandate.
  6. The City’s vaccine mandate violates the Firefighters’ right to privacy under the California Constitution. The California Constitution provides an explicit constitutional privacy right (compared to the implicit privacy right under the federal constitution) that has been applied to invalidate similar intrusions of a person’s bodily integrity. To satisfy the California Constitution, the City must consider and offer reasonable accommodations as a middle ground between individual freedoms and collective rights. It did not do that. Instead, the City Council viewed this sensitive personal issue through the lens of partisan politics, saying they “want[ ] a vaccinated workforce.” The California Constitution requires far more than that before invading the bodily integrity of thousands of public employees, who the public depends on.
  7. Even if the City had the power to order forced vaccinations of its employees or residents, (which it does not) it must show that forced vaccination is the least restrictive way to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. The City cannot show that because the evidence does not support that finding. In fact, there is mounting evidence that the vaccine does not prevent the virus from spreading and may only provide protection against serious illness, a benefit that does little, if anything, for firefighters. Thus, the vaccine mandate is both unnecessary and ineffective in protecting the public.
  8. These are not trivial concerns. The Covid-19 vaccines may—or may not—be safe for most people. We won’t know if they are safe until, at minimum, the 20 primary clinical trials underway to answer this very question are completed and time has passed to assess long-term effects.
  9. As of August 31, 2021, 477,447 adverse reactions have been reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, many in otherwise healthy people (https://VAERS.hhs.gov). These statistics include 6,112 deaths, 7,829 life threatening illnesses and 28,035 hospitalizations. The people of Los Angeles cannot afford to put their firefighters at additional health risk when the force is already depleted and inadequately staffed. The people of Los Angeles cannot afford to lose the large percentage of their firefighters that the City has threatened to fire if they do not get a Covid shot, especially during the peak of fire season.
  10. Firefighters4Freedom brings this action for declaratory and injunctive relief to declare the City’s vaccine mandate unlawful and to enjoin the City from enforcing it.

EMPLOYEES OF BIG PHARMA COMPANY CHALLENGE COVID VACCINATION MANDATE

In Doe v. Incyte Corporation, Case 2:21-cv-05956, Central District of California, employees of a big pharma company (Incyte) challenge the employer’s COVID vaccination mandate under the California State Constitution, article 1, section 1.

Incyte imposed an August 1, 2021 deadline for its employees to all receive a COVID vaccine.  The Complaint to stop the mandate (originally filed in Los Angeles Superior Court) is here.  A motion for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining filed to stop the August 1 vaccination mandate deadline is  here.  Incyte then postponed its August 1 vaccine deadline mandate, putting all non-vaccinated employees on paid administrative leave.  This rendered the TRO motion moot, for the time being.

Analysis of California Law

Article I, section 1 of the California Constitution is an enumeration of the inalienable rights of all Californians. Privacy is declared to be among those rights.  Constitutional privacy includes the right to make intimate personal decisions or conduct personal activities without observation, intrusion, or interference. The employees’ rights to decide what is done with their own bodies, and to consent or not consent to an experimental medical treatment with unknown risks, is just such an intimate personal decision protected under our Constitution.

The Incyte employees’ case involves the autonomy privacy right referenced by the California Supreme Court in Hill v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn., 26 Cal.Rptr.2d 834, 842 (Cal. 1994): the right to make intimate personal decisions or conduct personal activities without observation, intrusion, or interference.

The privacy standards that guide California Courts in implementing this privacy right arise principally under the Protection of Human Subjects in Medical Experimentation Act, HSC Ch. 1.3. Human Experimentation [HSC §§24170 – 24179.5].  HSC §24171 declares the Medical Experimentation Act’s primary legislative intent to be this:

Section 14172 of the Medical Experimentation Act provides an “experimental subject’s bill of rights” which, among other things, includes the experimental subject’s rights to “(j) Be given the opportunity to decide to consent or not to consent to a medical experiment without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, coercion, or undue influence on the subject’s decision” (emphasis added).

Does the Medical Experimentation Act offer guidance for development of a privacy standard under Constitution article I, section 1 with respect to a person’s right to voluntarily choose whether to accept an unproven, experimental vaccine, or not?  The answer to that question must certainly be “yes,” for at least the following reasons:

First, The Medical Experimentation Act’s statement of legislative intent and subject’s bill of rights express clear public policies of this State concerning control of one’s own body to accept, or not accept, unproven medical treatments. A commonsense and plain reading of the Medical Experimentation Act shows it is a natural legislative extension of privacy rights guaranteed under Constitution article I, section 1.

Second, that a mandatory COVID vaccination requirement is not actually administered by the employer—but by a third-party medical provider—does not change the fact that the employer is the proximate cause of force and undue influence causing the experimental injection of the employee for purposes of the Medical Experimentation Act.  Thus, the intent of the Act applies to Incyte, even though a third party would administer the COVID vaccine injection.

Third, there is no decision more intimate or personal than to consent, or not consent, to an experimental medical treatment: that person’s life may literally hangs in the balance. No other person should be allowed to assess the risks and benefits of an unproven medial treatment on behalf of that person.  No employer should be able to make a potential life-or-death decision for its employees as a condition of continued employment simply to burnish its own public image in the marketplace, or to satisfy institutional shareholders’ interest in earning larger profits from their vaccine company holdings.

The right to determine what is done to one’s own body, and to voluntarily consent or not consent to an unproven medical treatment may be the foremost intimate personal decision a person ever faces.  A person’s employer has no legal, moral, or ethical right to make that decision for an employee, or to coerce that decision, or exercise undue influence or force with respect to that decision.  And make no mistake: conditioning ongoing employment on consent to a COVID vaccine injection is an exercise of undue influence, force, and coercion. A person who had a job yesterday but does not have that job today—because he or she refused to take a COVID vaccination—faces existential survival threats that follow from lack of income.

 

covid vaccination mandate

EMPLOYERS MAY NOT MANDATE COVID VACCINATIONS IN CALIFORNIA

May California employers mandate COVID vaccinations for employees?  The short answer is no.

California’s constitutional right to privacy, combined with California’s unfair competition law, prevent an employer from mandating COVID shots as a condition of continued employment.  Here is the analysis:

Article I, Section 1 of the California Constitution says this:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

The inalienable right to personal privacy in California includes “the right of individuals to determine what is done to their own bodies.” This legislative policy is made clear in a California statute entitled “Protection of Human Subjects in Medical Experimentation Act,” which says this:

The Legislature hereby finds and declares that medical experimentation on human subjects is vital for the benefit of mankind, however such experimentation shall be undertaken with due respect to the preciousness of human life and the right of individuals to determine what is done to their own bodies. [1]

This language underscores the inherent tension between medical experimentation, on the one hand, and the right of all people to determine what is done to their own bodies, on the other.   Because it is a declared public policy of California, the right to determine what is done to ones own body is a recognized privacy right under the California Constitution, Section I, Article 1.

And under the unfair competition laws of California, an employer may not violate the privacy rights of its employees as a condition of continued employment.[2]  This means if an employer tells California employees they must take an experimental COVID shot—effectively telling employees that they no longer have the right to determine what is done to their own bodies—as a condition of continued employment, an employment violation is triggered, for which injunctive relief and damages are available under Business & Professions Code §17200.  Employers who attempt to mandate COVID vaccinations will violate this law.

FEDERAL LAW

An employer’s mandatory vaccination requirement would also ignore the requirements of  the Federal Food and Drug Act, 21 USC §360bbb-3(e), for informed consent—

(II) of the significant known and potential benefits and risks of each of the experimental COVID vaccinations and of the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown; and

(III) of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequences, if any, of refusing administration of the product, and of the alternatives to the product that are available and of their benefits and risks.

Employees have standing to sue under this federal statute since they are “individuals” to whom the mandatory COVID vaccinations would be administered.  It is established law that potential harm from forced exposure to dangerous food products or drugs is a risk that confers Article III standing to private litigants.[3]

UNKNOWN RISKS

Little is actually known about the short and long term risks and benefits of each of the COVID vaccinations.  Alarmingly, some recent studies suggest that the risks of COVID vaccinations may far outweigh the benefits.  For example, data suggest that at least 3,000 deaths in US may have been caused by a COVID shot. The HHS VAERS Dataset suggests that number may be much, much higher.  Other evidence suggests a direct link between COVID shots and blood clots, myocarditis and vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia.  At minimum, until these risks and benefits are better understood and resolved, no employer may mandate COVID vaccinations.

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION

Is there a middle ground between an employee’s right to privacy and an employer’s need to provide overall safety in the workplace?  Yes–there is always a middle ground to be found in cases involving individual rights vs. collective rights.  Finding the middle ground is what constitutional questions always involve, at both the state and federal levels.

And if reasonable accommodations can be made for non-vaccinated people in all other sectors of society—professional sports, restaurants, bars, subways, churches, and retail stores—can a company not do the same for its employees?  California law requires no less.

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[1] Calif. Health & Safety Code, CHAPTER 1.3. Human Experimentation [24170 – 24179.5].

[2] Wilkinson v. Times Mirror Corp., 264 Cal.Rptr. 194, 206 (Cal. App. 1989). “Unfair competition under Business & Professions Code §17200 encompasses anything that can properly be called a business practice which at the same time is forbidden by law.”

[3] See, e.g., Baur v. Veneman, 352 F.3d 625, 632 (2d Cir.2003)

employers may not mandate COVID vaccinations