LA County Employees Lawsuit Alleges COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate ‘Unconstitutional’

By Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
October 5, 2021 Updated: October 7, 2021

Five Los Angeles County employees sued the city over the recent COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, arguing that the mandate is “unconstitutional.”

Back in August, Los Angeles Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis issued an executive order mandating all county workers receive COVID-19 vaccination by Oct. 7—an order which the rest of the board later ratified.

“L.A. County should lead by example,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. “The best step we can take for the health of all our residents is for as many working adults as possible to be vaccinated, so we are starting with our own 100,000 plus employees, insisting that, for a start, they either be fully vaccinated or get a COVID-19 test each week and eventually get vaccinated, unless they are exempted for health or religious beliefs.”

Epoch Times Photo
A medical volunteer prepares the Moderna coronavirus vaccination for a patient at Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange, Calif., on March 9, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

County Employee Lawsuit

While the order allows for exemptions for religious or medical reasons, many county employees say that the exemptions were not enough, and that the mandate is unconstitutional.

“The county must consider and offer reasonable accommodations as a middle ground between individual freedoms and collective rights,” the lawsuit stated. “It did not do that. Instead, it viewed this sensitive personal issue through the lens of partisan politics.”

The lawsuit also alleged the order exceeds the county’s power under the Emergency Services Act, and claims it was implemented during proceedings that violated the state’s open-meeting law; it also claims the board’s ratification of the order was done without sufficient notice to the public.

A spokesperson for Los Angeles County told The Epoch Times in an email statement that while the county cannot comment on pending litigation, “Los Angeles County is the largest municipal workforce in the nation, and we are encouraged that more than 81 percent of our employees have already registered their vaccination status.”

The lawsuit alleges that thousands of county employees, including the five plaintiffs, have not complied with the county’s mandate. The plaintiffs are Sheriff’s Department employees Vincent Tsai and Oscar Rodriguez, Probation Department worker Enrique Iribe, Sanitation Department employee Mohamed Bina, Department of Public Health worker Shayne Lamont and nonprofit group Protection for the Educational Rights of Kids.

Some Angelenos Call for Alternative Options to Vaccine Mandates

The Coalition of County Unions called for the expansion of categories of medical exemptions to include “natural immunity” for those who have already had COVID-19.

An Israeli study reported in September said that the immunity conferred by recovering from COVID-19 is better than the protection afforded by COVID-19 vaccines.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 721 represents about 55,000 workers, including probation officers, foster care workers, and healthcare workers like nurses and lab technicians, and is the county’s largest union. SEIU said in a statement that about 30 percent, or about 16,500, of their members are vaccine-hesitant. SEIU advocated for a regular testing option for its members who are vaccine-hesitant.

“Given the significant challenges around vaccine hesitancy and the urgent need to contain the Delta variant spike, SEIU 721 will continue to strongly advocate for a robust, regular testing option for unvaccinated members,” the group said in a statement.

L.A. City and County Employees Plan on Seeking Vaccine Exemptions

Last month, the city of L.A. reported that more than 6,000 people, or 11 percent, of city employees plan to seek vaccine exemptions. Roughly 48 percent of city employees are fully vaccinated, and 50 percent reported that they were at least partially vaccinated. A total of 23,000 city employees have not reported their vaccination status, while 5,688 said they were unvaccinated.

Nearly half of the 6,000 employees seeking exemptions come from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), where 2,651 employees plan to file for religious exemptions, and 368 plan to file for medical exemptions. On Sept. 11, six LAPD employees filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city, claiming the city’s vaccine mandate violates their rights and that the LAPD failed to create a formal process to submit requests for medical or religious exemptions.

Supervisor Chair Hilda Solis, plaintiffs’ attorney John Howard, and PERK Group did not respond to a request for comment by press time.