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A federal judge in Montana has ruled that parts of the state’s law preventing discrimination against individuals in health care settings based on their COVID-19 vaccination status are unconstitutional.
Republican-backed House Bill 702 was passed in 2021 by the Montana Legislature as an anti-discrimination measure and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte in May of that same year.
The bill banned employers from mandating that employees get vaccinated or share their vaccine status through an immunity passport.
In a 41-page ruling on Dec. 9, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy stated that the law was unconstitutional as it applies to employers and employees of health care settings.
“No party questions the authority of the Montana Legislature and Governor to exercise their respective legislative or executive authority to enact or modify public health and anti-discrimination laws,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, the challenge, in this case, stems from an ostensibly purposed anti-discrimination statute and its incongruent impact on healthcare providers and patients, hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices.”
Law Fails to Deal Specifically With COVID-19
State Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Department of Labor Commissioner Laurie Esau were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to state that the law passed in 2021 failed to distinguish between vaccines and did not deal specifically with COVID-19, instead encompassing “all vaccines whether for measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis, or flu.”
This, in turn, plaintiffs argue, “caused critical concerns for health care providers whether hospitals, doctor’s offices or other medical facilities by limiting the ability of such providers to know the vaccination status of patients and employees.”
Plaintiffs also argue that the law “preemptively precludes health care providers and other employers from knowing the vaccination status of employees or patients if the employee or patient refuses to answer any inquiry about vaccination status or immunity passports.”
“That situation, for any number of reasons, creates untoward problems for healthcare providers of any description in trying to protect the environment where services to patients are rendered and to prevent the spread of diseases,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit argues that the law as it pertains to health care settings violated a string of laws.
In his ruling on Friday, Molloy said that plaintiffs had successfully argued that the law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulations.
Specifically, he said, plaintiffs had successfully argued that the law was preempted by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act which requires employers to consider accommodation to create a safe work environment for workers, including employees who are immunocompromised.
‘A Win for All Montanans’
“Deprived by law of the ability to require vaccination or immunity status of an employee, a health care employer is not able to properly consider possible reasonable accommodations if an employee asks to limit his or her exposure to unvaccinated individuals,” wrote Molloy, a Clinton appointee.
The judge further noted that HB 702 “removes an essential tool from the health care provider’s toolbox to stop or minimize the risk of spreading vaccine-preventable disease.”
Molloy also found that plaintiffs had successfully proven that “vaccine-preventable diseases constitute recognized hazards in the workplace,” meaning that HB 702 was not compatible with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
In a statement on Dec. 10, Nurse’s Association attorney Raph Graybill called the order “a win for all Montanans, who shouldn’t have to worry about catching an infectious disease when they go to see the nurse or doctor.”
A spokesperson for Attorney General Knudsen said in a statement to Montana Free Press that his office is reviewing the ruling to determine what they will do next.
“Attorney General Knudsen is continuing to fight for the rights of health care workers,” spokesperson Emilee Cantrell said while pointing to a recent petition signed by Knudsen and 21 other state attorneys general calling for the vaccine mandate for health care workers to be scrapped amid chronic shortages.
The Epoch Times has contacted Knudsen’s office for comment.
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