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CHA Supports Publication of Opinion in Employee Termination Case

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The California Court of Appeal recently issued an opinion in Hodges v. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center that was originally designated as “not to be published” (meaning it could not be cited as precedent in other cases). However, CHA believed that it could provide a helpful precedent for other hospitals and submitted a letter brief requesting that the opinion be published, as did defendant Cedars-Sinai. As a result, the court ordered the opinion published, so it can now be relied upon as legal authority. 

In the ruling, the Court of Appeal held that a hospital’s termination of an employee for failing to get a flu vaccine required by hospital policy does not violate the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code § 12900 et seq. (FEHA)). The hospital’s mandatory employee flu vaccination policy made exceptions only for those with a valid religious or medical exemption, with the latter requiring a specified, recognized medical contraindication (a history of either a life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or Guillain-Barré Syndrome within six weeks following a previous dose).  

Hodges sought an exception for medical reasons other than these specified contraindications but was denied. Her employment was terminated when she nonetheless refused to be vaccinated. Hodges sued the hospital for disability discrimination and related claims under FEHA. The trial court granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. 

The appellate court’s opinion provides helpful guidance on at least three important issues for hospitals. First, it confirms that FEHA does not prohibit an employer from “adopt[ing] a policy recommended by the federal agency responsible for limiting the spread of disease in the United States and us[ing] that agency’s unambiguous guidance in formulating exceptions.” Second, it concludes that for purposes of FEHA, “[m]inor reactions to a vaccine cannot amount to a disability.” Third, “[a]n employer is not bound to accept an employee’s subjective belief that she is disabled” and “is entitled to rely on other medical information” including “CDC guidance.”