Why Henry Ford employees suing over vaccine mandate pulled suit

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Henry Ford Health System employees challenging the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate submitted a notice of voluntary dismissal to a federal judge Friday, hours before they were to participate in a hearing seeking a halt to the hospital's policy. 

The employees on Friday withdrew their motion asking for a temporary restraining order and filed a separate notice dismissing the case.

A lawyer for the 51 employees who filed the suit declined to comment on why the suit was withdrawn. 

Plaintiffs involved in the case said the lawsuit has to be reevaluated in light of President Joe Biden's Thursday announcement of a vaccine mandate for businesses and health care facilities, which could take the place of the hospital system's mandate in litigation.

Aidan Shoresh, left, gets a hug from his mother, Dr. Betty Chu, chief quality officer for Henry Ford Health System, after she gives him a COVID-19 vaccination shot. Henry Ford is requiring its workers to get vaccination.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg was set to hear arguments in the case at 3 p.m. Friday, but the hearing has been cancelled. 

The dismissal came day after Biden announced he was directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop rules requiring any companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing. Biden's order also required vaccinations at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid dollars.

On Friday, the deadline for Henry Ford's vaccine mandate, the health system said 92% of its employees were fully vaccinated and another 3% had received their first dose. The health system promised to "work in good faith" with people who have a "change of heart."

No employees were fired Friday, but they will face suspension through Oct. 1 and then "voluntary resignation" if they remain unvaccinated, according to the hospital system.  

"We have pledged to work with every team member who has not yet been vaccinated but demonstrates their commitment to do so," the health system said. "We've said from the start — our hope is to keep every member of our Henry Ford family."

The lawsuit filed Monday in Detroit argued that employees would be subjecting themselves to "potential harm and death" by getting the vaccine and cited death and injury data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System to support their reluctance to get the vaccine.

The suit argued that the policy violates the employees' 14th Amendment right to bodily integrity and personal autonomy. It also said the denial of medical treatment is a "fundamental right."