A Michigan Court Decision has recently again affirmed the ability of employers to take a hardline stance when it comes to enforcing their vaccinating mandates. This decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan rejected an employee’s request for the court to block his employer from terminating his employment due to rejecting his employer’s vaccine mandate on religious grounds.
In this case, the employee claimed that he was set to be fired on January 4th, 2022, if he did not become vaccinated against COVID-19 despite possessing religious objections. His employer did possess a policy for granting religious exemptions; however, the plaintiff alleged that he was improperly denied such an exemption. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit requesting a temporary and permanent injunction before the January 4th termination date, alleging that the vaccine policy violated both the federal and Michigan constitution and civil rights laws.
The court, in a brief opinion, rejected the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary injunction finding that he had failed to show that any immediate and irreparable harm would result but for the issuance of such an injunction. The court noted that to issue an injunction, the injury must be immediate, non-speculative, and cannot be capable of being compensated through monetary damages.
The plaintiff claimed that the damages would be irreparable because he would be fired, suffer a loss of prestige, reputation, and seniority, and be caused spiritual distress. However, the court rejected this argument for three reasons.
The first reason was that suffering a loss of employment is not irreparable damage because any loss of income would be capable of being recovered through back pay. The court found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, courts have regularly rejected claims that a loss of employment amounts to irreparable damage.
Secondly, the court found that a loss of prestige, reputation, and seniority are similarly not irreparable damages. The court noted that a loss of reputation and prestige do not amount to the type of injury for which a preliminary injunction would be appropriate. Also, a loss of seniority could be solved by issuing retroactive increases in pay and seniority through damages.
Lastly, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to show that any spiritual distress which he might suffer is irreparable. Though the court expressed sympathy for the concept of those who may face an “impossible choice” concerning vaccination, it also found that the plaintiff failed to show how any damages that may result from such a choice would be irreparable. As a result, the court rejected the plaintiff’s motion finding that all damages that may result could be remedied through monetary damages should his claims prevail.
Though favorable for employers, this decision by no means necessarily means that the court will not eventually rule in the plaintiff’s favor, only that it will not step in before a final ruling. However, this decision does further serve to reaffirm the reluctance courts have shown to interfere with employer vaccine mandates.
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