A group of six employees with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city on Sept. 11, claiming that the city’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy violates their rights.
The lawsuit challenges both the city’s mandate and LAPD’s alleged failure to provide a process to submit requests for medical or religious exemptions. The plaintiffs include LAPD employees who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered who believe they should be exempt from the mandate.
“Subjecting City employees to a new condition of employment—which neither they nor Plaintiffs contemplated when they were hired—forces them to choose between their livelihood, in a time of acute nationwide economic hardship, and preservation of their fundamental constitutional privacy rights to control self-disclosure of sensitive personal information,” reads the suit.
“The order further seeks to embarrass, humiliate, shame and deprive the liberty of persons who decline to state their vaccine status by requiring Plaintiff to treat them as unvaccinated and impose testing, masking, and other punitive measures such as denial of promotions, transfer, appointments, etc.”
In addition, it states that the city “ignores peer-reviewed studies comparing naturally acquired and vaccine acquired immunity that show overwhelmingly that the former provides equivalent or greater protection against severe infection than immunity generated by mRNA vaccines.”
The LAPD employees are represented by attorneys Daniel Watkins of Watkins & Letofsky and Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute. The lawsuit names the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti, LAPD Chief Michel Moore, and City Administrative Officer Matthew Szabo as defendants.
The lawsuit argues that the LAPD is also violating the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which require reasonable medical or religious accommodation. It asks the court to declare the vaccine mandate unlawful and block the city from enforcing it.
Watkins told The Epoch Times that the attorneys also plan to file a class action lawsuit regarding the exemption issue, which could potentially affect thousands of employees.
An LAPD officer who requested to remain anonymous told The Epoch Times that the size of the group affected by the lawsuit could grow to as many as 3,000 or more employees of all ranks and classifications, including civilian workers.
“Our particular group has had 1,300 people sign up to get assistance in filing exemptions and retain legal counsel in the event of denial,” the officer said.
The City Mandate
The Los Angeles City Council approved the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination ordinance (pdf) on Aug. 18, requiring that all current and future city employees be fully vaccinated (including boosters as deemed required by the CDC, FDA, or Los Angeles County of Department of Public Health), or request an approved medical or religious exemption, and report their vaccination status no later than Oct. 19.
The ordinance states that as of Oct. 20, COVID-19 vaccination requirement will be a condition of city employment unless approved for an exemption.
“Requests for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination must be submitted no later than September 7, 2021,” states the ordinance.
According to the State Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), an employer may require employees to receive an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, as long as the employer complies with all state and federal laws (pdf).
The FEHA protects employees from discrimination, retaliation and harassment in employment. The FEHA anti-discrimination provisions apply to all employers with five or more full-time or part-time employees.
Under the law, in mandating vaccinations, the city must provide reasonable accommodation based on disability or a sincerely held religious belief or practice, cannot discriminate against or harass employees or job applicants based on their disability or religion, and cannot retaliate against anyone for engaging in a protected activity such as requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Exemption Request Confusion
The city ordinance does not designate a specific form, application, or process to be used by employees to request religious or medical exemptions, leaving some confused about the exact requirements.
As of Sept. 7, LAPD employees had only received a link sent via mass email to submit an “exemption interest form” allowing them to note their interest in applying for accommodation, according to Watkins.
He said many employees began submitting their requests for exemption using the department’s default employee report Form 15.7, generally used to report issues not addressed by other specific departmental forms, since the employees were concerned they would miss the deadline.
Adding to the confusion, some personnel have received exemption denials on the basis that Form 15.7 was the incorrect form, according to the LAPD officer who requested to remain anonymous.
The exact number of intent forms that were submitted by the Sept. 7 deadline is unknown because they were submitted via a link to the city, not one established by the LAPD.
Watkins said that while some exemption requests have been accepted by different city precincts, more than half have been refused by division chiefs, and still others are being held due to the lack of an implementation plan. He hopes that the request for injunctive relief will compel the city and LAPD to implement a process consistent with the law.
“The law calls for an individual review of the requests, and yet now you have at least 1,300 requests,” the attorney said. “And that requires a significant process, man hours, and putting into place a system for individual review and criteria for evaluation, and they’re [LAPD] just not doing it.”
Another officer, who also requested to remain anonymous, received an email after submitting an accommodation request via Form 15.7. It stated:
Per this official DOC notice, the Department has advised not to submit any other forms to request exemptions. Hence, we are not accepting 15.7s for exemption requests. Officers need to be directed to complete the process as stated on the DOC Notice. I have already contacted OSS and we are not accepting a 15.7.
We WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE for an officer saying he/she turned in a 15.7 requesting the exemption and we lost it or didn’t process it.
Officers in another area of the city claimed that some requests were collected by the department and destroyed.
Awaiting City Guidelines
According to Lt. Raul Jovel of the LAPD Media Relations Division, the department has not yet received direction as to how the ordinance should be implemented. Therefore, he couldn’t comment on handling requests for medical or religious exemptions.
“The process and procedures have not been developed yet. There’s talk that the city is still coordinating or working with the labor unions, the League and different employer organizations to try to figure out how this is going to work,” Jovel told The Epoch Times. “Once that’s written, we’ll know exactly the process but also the other half of that coin is trying to figure out, if people don’t do this [get vaccinated], what are the consequences.”
According to Jovel, Chief Michel Moore has stated that he will not comment on what he can or cannot do regarding the implementation of the ordinance at this time until he acquires more input from city leaders.
Jovel said that the intent forms that were sent out before Sept. 7 went directly to the city and the LAPD did not have access to how many of its personnel submitted their intent to request exemption.
“At all departments across the city, employees were asked if they intend to file an exemption, either religious or medical, to log in to a login portal with the information, and that went to the city. I’m not sure what they intend to do with that data,” Jovel said.
‘Push to Mandate Vaccines’
The city’s move towards mandatory vaccinations has been in play for several months. On July 27, Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez announced that they would “push for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for City employees, beginning with a requirement that workers either submit proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test.”
The vaccine requirement, the memo stated, “is part of a broader push to mandate vaccines for all employees once the federal Food and Drug Administration gives full approval. It comes as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to drive an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated in Los Angeles County and across the country.”
“Angelenos have stayed inside for over a year to protect themselves and others. I think it’s safe to say that we’re getting tired of putting our lives on hold to protect people who don’t want to protect themselves and get vaccinated,” Martinez said in the statement.
Martinez said that as the largest employer in the City of Los Angeles, they are doing their part and must set an example in asking Angelenos to get vaccinated.
The LAPD’s Chief Police Psychologist, Dr. Edrick H. Dorian, also sent out an emotional email on Aug. 30 encouraging employees to get vaccinated, stating that it would alleviate guilt and shame, as well as the worry of family members already taxed by the dangers and uncertainty of them working for the LAPD.
The letter told employees that if they are not vaccinated, they can still change their minds, “if only because you want to protect others’ safety or because you do not want to jeopardize your livelihood.”
Dorian’s emailed letter, obtained by The Epoch Times, reads:
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late… It’s rare that I, the Department’s Chief of Police Psychologist and commanding officer of Behavioral Science Services (BSS), have the opportunity to communicate with all of you directly. As your police psychologists, dietician, and addiction prevention unit, most of our work at BSS occurs behind closed doors, out of plain sight, under the strictest of confidentiality. For the past 53 years, our primary purpose has been to help preserve or enhance the good in your life. We are here because we value and support you and the mission of law enforcement.
In that vein, I write today to acknowledge the stress and turmoil you have all experienced over the past 18 months. If a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic was not enough, you have experienced one of the most challenging periods in policing history. We have seen you, listened to you, and learned from you-it has been brutal at times, both for you and for your family members. Frankly, it has been incredibly heartbreaking for us to witness some of the hardships you and your loved ones have endured.
Today, some of our most prominent conversations in the Department center around the impending mandates for vaccination, which have understandably caused some concerns about personal rights and adverse health consequences. There is likely little you have not already heard a thousand times on the subject, whether it be medical facts, an array of theories about ulterior motives, or stories about terrible or miraculous outcomes. Yet, I implore you to put all of that aside for a moment and consider the following.
We at BSS have witnessed an extraordinary amount of personal suffering, fear and guilt over the past many months. These stories are often not publicly shared, as they involve feelings of embarrassment and shame, coupled with fears of judgement and ridicule about the consequences of coronavirus-related choices and behaviors. Two of the greatest points of pride for officers are in exercising good judgement and being among the few in society who are trained in, and committed to, protecting safety. When we know that vaccines are effective, immediately available, and a form of invisible body armor against serious illness or death, it is tough to look back with regret.
If you have not been vaccinated by now, it is because you have your reasons. You have thought about it a lot. It is OK to change your mind, if only because you want to protect others’ safety or because you do not want to jeopardize your livelihood. Getting vaccinated now is an easy way to remove one major area of worry for your family, given all the dangers and uncertainty they know you regularly face.
If you have concerns about the vaccine, we can help point you to resources for the accurate information you need. If you feel your rights are being violated, remember that those rights are intact, but that public safety officers commit to many requirements of the job from day one. Take a moment to consult a trusted friend, colleague, or police psychologist on whether this is “the hill” on which you want to take a stand—whether that is best for you and your family. If you think you will be judged for getting the vaccine, the unvaccinated who become ill when vaccines were widely available will tell you that the alternative is often much worse. You have a choice. And because you do, don’t wait until it’s too late…please vaccinate. Thousands—the majority—of your fellow LAPD family members already have.
Navigating Exemption Laws
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), leaders of police departments in the U.S. may require employees to be vaccinated without violating federal law but are required to consider religious and medical accommodation requests.
The organization emphasized that employees have the right to refuse to be vaccinated if they have a valid medical or religious objection.
Police departments have also required employees to receive other vaccines, such as tetanus, hepatitis, measles, mumps, rubella, and flu vaccines, as well as meet certain health and fitness medical requirements.
Those seeking a medical exemption or accommodation must establish a qualifying disability that prevents them from taking a vaccine, while those seeking a religious exemption or accommodation must establish that the vaccine or immunization would violate a sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance. In addition, an employee that has deep moral or ethical values in conflict with vaccinations can also qualify for a religious exemption and accommodation.
Employers must also allow discussion on whether an individual’s objections can be accommodated. This might include increasing the level of personal protective equipment, moving an employee’s workstation, temporary reassignment, working remotely, or minimizing interactions with other employees or the public.
Depending on the size of a department, the accommodations may be impossible or place an undue burden on the employer, making the request unreasonable. If no reasonable accommodation can be found, employees may be placed on unpaid leave or terminated.
Potential Impacts on Policing
According to the LAPD officer who spoke to The Epoch Times on agreement of anonymity, the impact of employees leaving due to the vaccine mandate would be catastrophic in terms of the LAPD’s ability to protect the public.
“It takes at least five years for an officer to become proficient at their job,” the officer said. “Less than that and they are placed with more senior officers to assist them in navigating the complexities of liability and a procedurally intense environment, not to mention, just being able to remain alive at the same time.”
He said that monthly police academy classes usually consist of 40 to 60 candidates who are selected from a pool of those applying.
“We usually hire one out of 300 to 1,000 candidates. This means in the best of times we will need 12,000 applicants for 40 new officers.”
And, while most of the candidates graduate, some will not pass probation.
“Taking that into consideration, we also have to factor in retirements each month, which usually ranges from 20 to 50 personnel. The Department is already down 700 employees from the 10,000 we were at a few years ago prior to the pandemic, defunding, etc.,” said the officer.
“It could take up to two years to fill that gap alone. If we were to lose an additional 3,000 employees or more, it would take at least five years to replace those losses, and that would be without allowing a single retirement during that time.”
The officer explained that the department has 1,800 to 2,200 officers total assigned to respond to citizen calls, but on any given night the department has fewer than 800 employees working in the field. Most areas also have about 15 to 25 percent of employees who are unavailable at any given time due to training, vacation or duty-related injuries.
Additional attrition, he said, would result in a “complete disaster.”
“With violent crime climbing to levels not seen in decades and looking at both the World Cup 2026 and the 2028 Olympics potentially coming to the City of Los Angeles in the next seven years, the impact of these possible losses—the time it would take to replace them and allow them to mature and become effective—will result in truly dangerous conditions for the community, and a tremendous loss in revenue for the city.”