Missouri Employee Not Entitled to Injunctive Relief Against Private Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Brian Weinstock

By Brian Weinstock

vaccine mandateRecently, Clifton Reese, an employee of Tyson Foods, requested a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction against his employer regarding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Reese v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

On August 3, 2021, Tyson Foods announced a vaccine mandate which required all employees nationwide to be fully vaccinated by specified dates. Moreover, the policy requested that employees seeking religious or medical accommodations contact human resources “immediately” to allow Tyson time to consider each employee’s request to meet company deadlines. Despite the notification to contact human resources immediately, Reese waited a month before contacting human resources seeking a religious exemption.

In response to his request, Tyson offered Reese an accommodation of an unpaid leave of absence, which he rejected. Tyson then confirmed Reese’s request for a religious exemption from the company vaccine mandate had been granted, the status of the accommodation was subject to change, and if the accommodation was an unpaid leave of absence that was not job-protected, “it may be necessary to fill your position.” Tyson also explained that if providing the accommodation was an undue hardship to the company, the accommodation could be revoked, and Reese would have to either comply with the mandate or be subject to termination.

In response to Tyson’s confirmation of the accommodation, Reese filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission of Human Rights. Reese hired an attorney and sent a demand letter to Tyson demanding that Tyson continue Reese’s employment “with the already existing COVID-19 restrictions in place,” and that he receive his full bonus, salary, and benefits. Tyson said they would review the demand.

Reese then sued Tyson, asserting claims of public policy violation, assault, breach of contract, invasion of privacy, violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), and requested a preliminary injunction. To obtain a preliminary injunction, Reese had to prove irreparable harm. According to U.S. District Court Judge Roseann Ketchmark, “Courts recently have consistently rejected claims that vaccine policies like Defendant’s cause irreparable nonmonetary harms.” Therefore, the Court determined Reese failed to establish the irreparable harm element required for injunctive relief.

In addition, Tyson also prevailed on the balance between harms issue to deny an injunction.  Tyson asserted and the Court agreed the harm from a preliminary injunction would cause harm to the health and safety of the employee’s coworkers, their families and communities, and the company, which outweighed the Reese’s alleged harm, since it would require Tyson “to fundamentally alter its strategy for addressing the health risks posed to its employees and customers by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Court then determined Reese’s claim of a violation of public policy was not likely to succeed on the merits because no Missouri or federal cause of action exists for a violation of public policy.

Further, the Court found that Reese’s claims for assault, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy were preempted, superseded, and displaced by the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA).

Of interest on the public interest claim, the Court determined the public interest favors private actions such as Tyson’s COVID-19 vaccination policy because it “advances the goal of protecting the health and safety of its employees and others with whom they interact.”

Reese’s claims were denied.

If you have any questions regarding a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, contact one of our employment law attorneys.

Posted by Attorney Brian S. Weinstock. Weinstock concentrates on real estate and corporate transactional law, workers’ compensation, insurance defense, and other civil and commercial litigation. For businesses, he provides financial and legal analysis as well as operational strategies and ideas to manage risk.

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