Sunday, January 12, 2020

5th Circuit: Firefighter Was Offered Reasonable Accommodation of His Anti-Vaccination Beliefs

In Horvath v. City of Leander, Texas, (5th Cir., Jan. 9, 2020), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a suit brought by Brett Horvath, a Baptist minister who was employed as a driver/ pump operator by the Leander, Texas Fire Department.  As recounted by the court:
In 2016, the Fire Department began requiring TDAP vaccinations, to which Horvath objected on religious grounds. He was given a choice between two accommodations: transfer to a code enforcement job that did not require a vaccination, or wear a respirator mask during his shifts, keep a log of his temperature, and submit to additional medical testing  He did not accept either accommodation and was fired by Fire Chief Bill Gardner for insubordination. Horvath filed suit against Chief Gardner and the City, alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 premised on violations of his First Amendment Free Exercise rights.
The majority concluded that the city had offered Horvath reasonable accommodations of his religious beliefs, and that the respirator alternative did not burden his religious beliefs.

Judge Ho filed a lengthy opinion dissenting in part. He was very critical of both the Supreme Court's Smith precedent and the current jurisprudence on qualified immunity.