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Employer Not Liable for Discrimination in Requiring Vaccinations

Brett Horvath objected to the vaccinations required by his employer, City of Leander, Texas (“City”) as a condition of employment. He worked as a firefighter and was also an ordained minister. He objected to the vaccinations on religious grounds. He had received flu shot exemptions from the City but was refused accommodation from the requirement that he get the TDAP vaccine (​Tetanus, Diphtheria, and ​Pertussis/​whooping cough). The City did offer to reassign Horvath to a code enforcement job that did not require vaccination or he could stay in his current position but wear a respirator mask during his shifts, keep a log of his temperature, and submit to additional testing. Horvath wanted to wear the mask only when he thought it was medically necessary. The City refused to agree to that. When Horvath did not accept either accommodation, he was fired for insubordination.
Horvath’s lawsuit for violation of Title VII (religious discrimination), Texas state law, and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause was heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Horvath argued that the alternate position offered was less desirable in its duties and hours and would interfere with his secondary employment. The appellate court was not persuaded by these arguments, reiterating that Title VII does not require an employer to offer only those accommodations preferred by the employee. In this case, the court concluded that the accommodations were so reasonable, a jury could not reach a different decision. The court also ruled in favor of the City on Horvath’s retaliation claim as it had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for firing him, i.e., the failure to select an accommodation. Lastly, the circuit court concluded that the City’s requirement that he wear a respirator while at work did not burden his right to exercise his religion.