Tuesday, January 11, 2022

"Spiritual Distress" From Employer's Vaccine Mandate Is Not "Irreparable Injury"

In Romano v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, (ED MI, Jan. 3, 2022), a Michigan federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to an employee who was to be fired because he refused to comply with his employer's COVID vaccine mandate.  Plaintiff's refusal was based on religious objections and he claimed the employer's denial of his request for a religious exemption violated Title VII, the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, the Free Exercise Clause and the Michigan Constitution. However, the court concluded that plaintiff did not meet the "irreparable injury" requirement necessary to support an injunction.  The court said in part:

Plaintiff claimed that his damages are irreparable because he will be fired, lose prestige and seniority, have his reputation marred, and suffer "spiritual distress."... But none of the alleged harms are irreparable....

Although the Court is sympathetic to religious persons who must confront the "impossible choice," Plaintiff never developed a sound legal argument for why the injury attributable to "impossible choice" is irreparable.... Plaintiff instead cited cases that enjoined government COVID19 vaccine mandates—not private COVID-19 vaccine mandates.... As Judge Pittman noted in a similar case, although "[t]he loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury," the First Amendment does not apply to private companies like Defendant....

Going forward, other plaintiffs may have an avenue for injunctive relief in Title VII COVID-19 vaccine mandate cases based on stronger legal arguments and facts.... Yet it is not the Court's role to advance legal and factual arguments for litigants; the Court resolves disputes based on the arguments that litigants assert.

National Law Review reports on the decision.