A judge ruled against Gainesville’s vaccine mandate for city employees Wednesday, but this decision may not be final.
On Aug. 26, more than 200 city employees filed a lawsuit against the City of Gainesville for mandating vaccinations.
The city passed its vaccine mandate Aug. 5, and any employee who doesn’t get their first dose by Oct. 1 or provide a medical or religious exemption would be terminated.
Circuit Judge Monica Brasington opposed the mandate and said city employees don’t have to be vaccinated in order to work for the city. The ruling is temporary until the city provides evidence that the vaccine mandate meets court standards.
“Without any evidence, the Court is unable to consider whether the Vaccine Mandate serves a compelling interest…” Brasington wrote. “The City did not file any affidavits or declarations, did not submit any documentary evidence, and did not call any witnesses.”
The city cannot terminate or punish employees who do not get vaccinated, according to the ruling. It is unclear when the city will submit evidence or when the next ruling will be.
The employees in the lawsuit are asking for injunctive relief from the city, which would prohibit the city from mandating vaccines. After Wednesday’s decision, city employees have temporary injunctive relief, meaning there is no mandate until a further decision is made.
In the lawsuit, the employees argued most of them have already contracted COVID-19 and have natural immunity. The city has stayed out of private health decisions until now, they wrote, and the employees prefer “less intrusive alternatives to coerced vaccination.”
“They are now goats; scapegoats of failed City policy, scapegoats for failed political leaders and federal policies,” the lawsuit reads. “In its mad rush to solve an intractable problem not of the Plaintiff's making, the City has conceived an odious scheme to coerce the Plaintiffs into taking unwanted and unnecessary Covid vaccines.”
Although there are medical professionals who support vaccine mandates the city has not put forth any evidence against the lawsuit. Meanwhile, several health experts provided expert testimony to the judge, siding with employees, including Stanford professor of medicine Jay Bhattacharya, cardiologist Peter McCullough and physician Dr. James Neuenschwander. They discussed the benefits of natural immunity and rare vaccine side effects.
Jeff Childers, an attorney representing the employees, said the vaccination requirement goes against the right to privacy and the right to bodily autonomy.
He said he believed they would win because the vaccine mandate crossed a line, and the city shouldn’t be able to decide what goes in a person’s body.
“That’s the part the city doesn’t understand,” Childers said. “They’re thinking of those employees’ bodies as property, and that’s not what the Florida Constitution says.”
City employees also have the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Kat Cammack and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. The three spoke out against mandating vaccines and supported free choice in Newberry on Sept. 13.
Moody also submitted a “friend of the court” amicus brief, explaining why she believes the city employees should win the lawsuit.
“These individuals have put their lives on the line for the people of Florida every day — and have continued to do so while much of the country was locked in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Moody wrote. “They deserve better.”
Tristan Grunder, president of Gainesville’s Fraternal Order of Police employee union, said he feels relieved by the ruling because it gives employees and the city more time to discuss the mandate and its effect on Gainesville.
A Gainesville FOP survey found 53% of its members would be willing to lose their jobs because of the mandate, Grunder said.
“We’re thankful for this ruling right now,” he said. “It’s going to put a lot of people at ease and it’s going to hopefully keep a lot more people here as long as it stays this way.”
The union is not anti-vaccine, but they are anti-mandate, he added.
Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.
Faith is a third-year journalism student specializing in sports media. She hopes to one day work as a play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League.