Federal judge lets Minnesota health systems' vaccine mandates stay

A federal judge is allowing Minnesota health systems' COVID-19 employee vaccine mandates to remain in effect, saying dozens of health care workers who sued hadn't met a high legal bar to block them.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel made an unusually quick decision from the bench after returning from a 10-minute recess Tuesday afternoon. She appeared skeptical of the claims made by attorneys for the 188 health care workers throughout the two-and-a-half-hour hearing.

The judge did not dismiss the case outright, but she ordered that the health care workers can't remain anonymous as the case continues. The workers had filed the lawsuit under false names, claiming they faced retaliation for not agreeing to get vaccinated.

"You're asking the defendants to defend against employment claims brought by individuals who work for them and not telling them who those individuals are," Brasel told the plaintiffs' attorneys, who had said they would only share a list of names with the defendants under a court order. Brasel ordered them to do so by Friday.

The many health system defendants said their employees' claims of discrimination are baseless. In court, lawyers said the health systems had granted dozens of religious and medical exemptions and hadn't fired anyone for refusing to get a shot.

Greg Erickson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said employees "do not have to wait until they are fired" before asking for the mandates to be tossed out. He said exemptions could later be revoked, and employees are "confused and scared by it."

Allina Health, Mayo Clinic, CentraCare and University of Minnesota Physicians are among the dozen named defendants in the case. Their attorneys took turns blasting the lawsuit during Tuesday's hearing.

"It is simply entirely untrue…that the vast majority of these (employees) are facing either a requirement of vaccination or termination," said Andrew Brantingham, an attorney for Mayo Clinic and CentraCare.

Joe Dixon, an attorney for Fairview and Children's Minnesota said the plaintiffs were "single-minded" in trying to push their anti-vaccine views.

Seventy of the 188 plaintiffs say they work at Allina, the most of any defendant. Anne Ricchiuto, an attorney for Allina, said all workers who've applied for an exemption have been allowed to continue working while their applications are pending.