For more information please call  800.727.2766


Fifth Circuit Affirms Employee Termination for Vaccine Refusal

Brett Horvath worked for the City of Leander, Texas’s fire department as a driver/pump operator. When the department began requiring all employees to take the TDAP vaccinations, Horvath refused on religious grounds. As part of his job, Horvath responded to emergency calls for rescue and fire suppression, performing first-responder duties for medical and non-medical emergencies. In response to his refusal, the department offered him two options: 1) transfer to another position with similar pay and benefits but no vaccine requirement, or 2) wear a respirator mask during all of his shifts, keep a log of his temperature, and submit to additional testing. Horvath rejected both options. He proposed another alternative: he would wear a mask only when he perceived it as medically necessary.

The fire chief concluded that Horvath’s refusal to obey his directive violated the city’s Code of Conduct. Based on that violation, the fire chief terminated him. Horvath filed a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination in violation of Title VII and the parallel Texas state law.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s dismissal of the case. Title VII requires employers to “make reasonable accommodations for the religious observances of its employees, but is not required to incur undue hardship.” The court noted, “Title VII does not restrict an employer to only those means of accommodations that are preferred by the employee.” The City of Leander argued it offered Horvath reasonable accommodations of his religious objection. Horvath argued the offered transfer position was less desirable and would impact his ability to continue working in an outside second job, thereby reducing his income. Relying on the above language that an accommodation need not be the one preferred by Horvath, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the fire department met its obligation to offer a reasonable accommodation.