WATERVILLE — Confluence Health has asked a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it after employees were fired or resigned over their refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Nearly 100 former and current employees filed a class-action lawsuit in early April after Confluence enforced the state’s vaccine mandate for its health care workers.
The plaintiffs want their jobs back and/or payment for the damage caused due to their termination, and other general damages. About half of the plaintiffs are still employed by Confluence Health, according to court documents.
Confluence Health filed a May 26 motion in Douglas County Superior Court to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Confluence Health argues that law and public policy prevent unvaccinated individuals from providing direct patient care, according to court documents. The plaintiffs’ disagreements are a legislative issue not a judicial one, said Jeffrey A. James, the Seattle-based lawyer representing Confluence Health, in court documents.
And natural immunity cannot be considered an exemption, James said in court documents.
“Neither case law nor public policy allows unvaccinated individuals to continue to providing direct patient care,” James said in court documents. “The legislature is the appropriate forum for arguing appropriate measures to combat a pandemic.”
Plaintiffs include Joy Dawe, a former Confluence Health nurse who also resigned from her position on the Eastmont School Board to look for a new job.
May Tussey, a former Confluence Health business analyst, and Michele Love-Wells, a nurse, are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They were recently among 34 applicants for open seats on the Chelan-Douglas Board of Health but were not selected and were not among the 10 finalists back in February.
The lawsuit against Confluence Health claims that employees were never allowed to prove they had natural immunity to COVID-19 and therefore keep their jobs.
The former employees are being represented by East Wenatchee attorney Steve Lacy.
Confluence Health argues that plaintiffs exercised a private right to refuse medical treatment, but employers still have a duty to minimize the spread of a virus and reduce the number of unnecessary exposures to vulnerable people, according to James.
And even with an approved religious or medical exemption, the employer is not required to approve an exemption that “either cause or increase safety risks or the risk of liability for the employer.”
In October, Confluence Health granted 229 religious and medical exemptions and received 23 resignations from staff. More than 100 exemption requests were not granted.
The accommodations for many staff members were either working from home or taking a 12-week leave of absence.
Confluence Health is also asking Douglas County Superior Court to strike Dr. Peter McCullough’s declaration from the record. McCullough is a cardiologist and vocal COVID-19 vaccine critic who has promoted other unproven, alternative COVID-19 treatments.
McCullough’s declaration argues that COVID-19 vaccine mandates do not stop transmission, does not improve workplace safety, and that natural immunity provides a better defense compared to COVID-19 vaccines.
Confluence Health argues that McCullough’s declaration does not contain any relevant information to the lawsuit as the decision “whether to accept offers of medical proof contradicting the legislature-issued vaccine mandate was decided (rejected) nearly 120 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court,” James said.
James is referring to Jacobson v. Massachusetts when the Supreme Court decided in 1905 that states and local boards of health had the power to set vaccination requirements.
A hearing on the two motions — to dismiss the case and strike McCullough’s declaration — is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on July 21.