Pull Quote from Grant's Letter re the Northshore Health System Settlement
"To my knowledge, this is the highest settlement amount for individuals who were terminated due to vaccine mandates. As such, the settlement represents a significant victory for those whose civil rights were ignored."
Full text of the August 1 message from Attorney Grant Wolf
I hope this email finds you well, and that you are surviving this extended heatwave. As many of you are aware, there was a recent case in which Northshore University Health System agreed to settle a lawsuit with roughly 500 former employees, who were terminated due to their religious opposition to the organization's vaccine mandate. The case settled for $10.3 million, which is roughly $25,000 per plaintiff. In addition to these monetary damages, Northshore's former employees are now eligible for rehiring at the same seniority level they held prior to termination.
To my knowledge, this is the highest settlement amount for individuals who were terminated due to vaccine mandates. As such, the settlement represents a significant victory for those whose civil rights were ignored. While this is certainly vindicating to the position we have taken in our case, I believe that it is essential to discuss all aspects of the case-- not just the positives. I would like to clarify that this is not an attempt to rain on any parades. Rather, this email is meant to communicate some of the nuances of the situation.
First, the Northshore case settled-- it was not fully adjudicated. This is significant because there were neither conclusions of law (made by a judge), nor conclusions of fact (made by a jury). Unfortunately, this means that the case has very little precedential or persuasive value. Businesses, people, and governmental entities may agree to settle a case for a variety of reasons. The calculus in settling a case is extensive, and includes: the cost of prolonged litigation, fear that a jury may award an inappropriate amount of damages, and potential reputational harm brought about by the proceedings. Because Northshore is a private organization, which pays their own legal fees and damages, these factors are particularly important. Contrarily, public entities-- such as WSDOT, WSP, Fire Departments, and DSHS-- simply use taxpayer funding to cover the cost of lawsuits.
The precedential value of this case is further limited due to the jurisdiction in which the case was brought. The case was brought in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois. As such, it is not binding on Washington State Courts, the Eastern District of Washington Federal Court, or the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (these are the three courts that are relevant to our current proceedings).
Although the case is nonbinding, it serves two important roles: 1) it shows that individuals are finding success in their litigation; and, 2) the case vindicates the position that Covid-19 should not give rise to the degradation of civil liberties.
Liberty Counsel represented the plaintiffs in the Northshore case. Their chief litigation counsel perfectly surmised the case's impact: “[t]he drastic policy change and substantial monetary relief required by the settlement will bring a strong measure of justice to NorthShore’s employees who were callously forced to choose between their conscience and their jobs. This settlement should also serve as a strong warning to employers across the nation that they cannot refuse to accommodate those with sincere religious objections to forced vaccination mandates.” If you would like to read more about the case, you can do so here.
As things advance with our own case, we will continue providing updates. Presently, we are awaiting a briefing schedule from the Ninth Circuit, and waiting to see how our appeal will be received. Further, our state law claims are unaffected by the pending review by the Ninth. These claims were explicitly preserved, as the Eastern District declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law issues. Our most significant state law issues are:
1) Violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which is the Washington equivalent of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
2) Battery. This claim is specifically for individuals who received the vaccine under duress. It is important to note that in the Northshore settlement, individuals who received the vaccine under such circumstances were given $3,000 each.
3) State Constitutional claims-- these claims are applicable to individuals who were employed by government entities. Likewise, the state constitution serves as a significant basis for our challenge against the mandate itself.
If you have any questions about the Northshore case, or the status of your case, please feel free to reach out. In the meantime, our office will continue working on your behalf. We have been advised by several clients that they have had difficulty receiving our email updates. If you know someone who has had this issue, please have them reach out to us and feel free to forward this email to them.
Grant, and the Wolf Legal Group Team
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