Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s claim that vaccine passports are prohibited in Texas, employees at a Houston Hospital are having to fight their employers’ mandate to take a COVID–19 vaccination. The employees’ attorney has asked Abbott to have the Texas Legislature take action in a special legislative session.

“Today, I signed a law that prohibits any TX business or gov’t entity from requiring vaccine passports or any vaccine information,” Gov. Greg Abbott stated on June 7.

Abbott signed the bill into law that afternoon. Later that evening, Houston Methodist Hospital employees were protesting their employers’ mandate they receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The law prohibiting vaccine passports Abbott signed doesn’t protect employees from an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

In a June 8 statement, Houston Methodist said they had granted medical or religious exemptions to 285 employees and deferrals to 332 for “pregnancy and other reasons,” while 178 of the hospital’s employees who were not fully vaccinated had been suspended. The hospital’s current policy states employees not fully vaccinated will be fired June 21.

To protect their individual medical rights, 117 of these employees sued the hospital, with Attorney Jared Woodfill representing them. On June 12, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes dismissed the lawsuit.

Texas Scorecard contacted Woodfill and asked him about the matter and, in light of Abbott reportedly planning to call multiple special sessions of the legislature, what his clients would ask Abbott to do.

“I believe legislation should be passed prohibiting an employer from requiring an employee to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment,” Woodfill replied. “Your job should not be contingent on your willingness to be a human guinea pig.”

Those opposing the hospital mandate argue the current COVID-19 vaccines available haven’t yet received full FDA approval, only given what’s referred to as “emergency use authorization” (EUA).

“Governor Abbott needs to exercise some leadership and make this issue a priority during the special session,” Woodfill stated.

Proposed laws that would’ve addressed employer vaccination requirements—such as State Sen Bob Hall’s (R–Edgewood) Senate Bill 1669 and State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst‘s (R–Brenham) amendment to House Bill 4272—didn’t pass the Texas Legislature during the regular session.

Texas Scorecard sent press inquiries to Abbott and Houston Methodist about Woodfill’s call for prohibitions against employer vaccination requirements being added to legislators’ to-do lists in a special session. Abbott’s office did not reply before publication, while Houston Methodist didn’t directly address potential special session action in their response.

“Houston Methodist is pleased and reassured after U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes today dismissed a frivolous lawsuit filed by some employees who fought our COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” they said in their June 12 statement provided to Texas Scorecard. “In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines are not safe. With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States alone, the vaccines have proven to be extremely safe. The number of both positive cases and hospitalizations continue to drop around the country, proving that the vaccines are working in keeping our community protected.”

However, Sen. Hall has previously said that during a May 6 committee hearing, senators “heard informative testimony from Texas doctors who have experience treating patients on the frontlines of the pandemic, and who shared their concerns about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.”

This isn’t the only issue to have come up regarding vaccine passports in Texas.

Around the same time as the hospital employees’ protests, cruise ship company Carnival announced that when they resume cruises from Galveston in July, they will be asking customers to show proof of having received a COVID-19 vaccination. Texas Scorecard asked Carnival about the recently enacted vaccine passport law.

“We are evaluating the legislation recently signed into law in Texas regarding vaccine information,” they replied on June 7. “The law provides exceptions for when a business is implementing COVID protocols in accordance with federal law which is consistent with our plans to comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s guidelines.”

Since then, no further update has been provided. An inquiry to Abbott’s office on this matter was viewed a total of 34 times but wasn’t responded to.

Meanwhile, in Florida, after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a ban on vaccine passports into law, Royal Caribbean announced they wouldn’t check vaccination statuses of those leaving Florida, while Celebrity Cruises will charge such customers higher rates and slap them with restrictions.

As far as the Houston Methodist employees’ case, in a possible signal of their employment status, President and CEO Dr. Marc Bloom stated “All our employees have now met the requirements of the vaccine policy and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Woodfill said despite Judge Hughes’ dismissal, his clients will keep fighting.

“With respect to the case, this is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment,” he said.

“We will be appealing this case to the United States Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court if necessary,” Woodfill continued. “Additionally, we will be seeking a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in a similar case. All of my clients continue to be committed to fighting this unjust policy.”

“What is shocking is that many of my clients were on the front line treating COVID-19 positive patients at Texas Methodist Hospital  during the height of the pandemic,” he said. “As a result, many of them contracted COVID-19. As a thank you for their service and sacrifice, Methodist Hospital awards them a pink slip and sentences them to bankruptcy.”

“If this ruling is allowed to stand, and Governor Abbott fails to act, employers across the country and Texas will be able to force their employees to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment,” Woodfill continued. “This legal battle has only just begun. Ultimately, I believe Methodist Hospital will be held accountable for their conduct. Sometimes the wheels of justice move slower than we like.”

Concerned citizens may contact Gov. Abbott, their state senator, and state representative.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.