Local municipalities can mandate COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees, federal judge says

Charleston County News

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – A federal judge has denied a motion to block some Lowcountry municipalities from mandating vaccines for their employees.

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request to implement a temporary injunction that would stop vaccine mandates for dozens of employees, including first responders, who are suing the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, Charleston County, and St. Johns Fire District over the requirements.

Thursday’s ruling means the mandates will remain in place.

“It is not the court’s role to determine and impose the employer policies that best strike the balance of the competing interests of a pandemic that has plagued not just this state or country, but the world, for almost two years,” said Judge David Norton.

Judge Norton said after evaluating and analyzing the law and legal arguments from both sides, the plaintiffs have not provided “a viable legal theory in support of an injunction, as each of the factors required to be considered, individually and collectively, weigh against the grant of injunctive relief.”

A spokesman for the City of North Charleston provided News 2 with a statement from Mayor Keith Summey which said: “The City of North Charleston appreciates Judge Norton’s thoughtful consideration of the vaccine policy and looks forward to completing implementation in the days ahead.”

Mayor Summer went on to say, “This is essential to provide a safe working environment for city employees and to deliver safe and efficient services to our citizens.  The city is hopeful that some plaintiffs, having read Judge Norton’s order, may now wish to comply with the vaccination policy in order to retain employment.”

“The City recognizes that it may not be possible for a Plaintiff to be fully vaccinated by November 5th, even if they received a first vaccine dose today.  Accordingly, the City will grant a 14-day extension, such that no one who becomes fully compliant (either through vaccination or approved waiver) on or before November 19 will be terminated from employment as a result of the policy,” he said.

A spokesperson for the City of Charleston also provided a statement to News 2 from Jack O’Toole, the City spokesperson which said: “We thank the court for its swift decision in this case, and will continue with our efforts to protect both our workforce and community.”

Meanwhile, Tom Winslow, one of the attorneys representing the 125 employees said as he is disappointed in the outcome, he’s happy they took on the case and is thankful that Judge Norton took his time in the decision. He added that while it was a pro bono situation, “this is a situation where we believe that individual’s constitutional rights were being infringed and someone had to stand up for them.”

Tom Fernandez, Winslow’s co-council said, “all of these plaintiffs have a right – inherited at birth and protected by the Constitution – to their own bodily autonomy. The decision for healthcare is a choice that must be left between an individual, their doctor, and their Heavenly Father. It should never be left up to government coercion under threat of fine, citation, or even loss of employment.”  

As of Thursday afternoon, it is unclear whether the employees will want to push forward with an appeal, or drop the case.


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