Friday, August 19, 2022

Maine's COVID Vaccine Mandate, Without Religious Exemption, Is Upheld

 In Lowe v. Mills, (D ME, Aug. 18, 2022), a Maine federal district court rejected challenges by seven healthcare workers to Maine's COVID vaccination requirement for healthcare workers. No religious exemption is available; medical exemptions are available. The court rejected plaintiffs Title VII religious discrimination claim, saying in part:

[I]f the Hospital Defendants had granted the sole accommodation sought by the Plaintiffs, it would result in an undue hardship by subjecting the Hospital Defendants to the imposition of a fine and the “immediat[e] suspension of a license.”

The court also rejected plaintiffs' 1st Amendment Free Exercise claims, saying in part:

In the context of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the medical exemption is rightly viewed as an essential facet of the vaccine’s core purpose of protecting the health of patients and healthcare workers, including those who, for bona fide medical reasons, cannot be safely vaccinated. In addition, the vaccine mandate places an equal burden on all secular beliefs unrelated to protecting public health—for example, philosophical or politically-based objections to state-mandated vaccination requirements—to the same extent that it burdens religious beliefs. Thus, the medical exemption available as to all mandatory vaccines required by Maine law does not reflect a value judgment unfairly favoring secular interests over religious interests. As an integral part of the vaccine requirement itself, the medical exemption for healthcare workers does not undermine the vaccine mandate’s general applicability.