7 Mass. troopers can’t yet be fired over vaccine mandate, judge rules

In her ruling, Judge Christine Roach cited "an apparently free choice with no real alternative"


By Sean Philip Cotter
Boston Herald

BOSTON — Seven troopers facing firing over the coronavirus vaccine mandate will be able to keep their jobs — at least for the time being — after a judge issued an injunction to stop the state police from showing them the door.

“Defendants are enjoined from terminating from employment with the State Police the Seven SPAM Members identified in the Complaint, until further order of the court,” Suffolk Superior Judge Christine Roach ruled on Wednesday. She wrote that this specifically applies to the seven troopers in question — and doesn’t stop the state from enforcing the mandate otherwise.

This is following a lawsuit filed March 3 by the State Police Association of Massachusetts — the SPAM in question —  against the state police, the commander Col. Christopher Mason and other offices in Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration following months of back and forth over Baker’s employee vaccine mandate, created last fall.

The seven troopers in question had applied for religious exemptions and been denied, and therefore faced imminent firing because they weren’t in compliance with the mandate. The seven, who remain on unpaid leave, will remain as such as the case moves forward.

Roach ruled that the state had not “met their preliminary burden on the merits of the reasonable accommodation defense” around religious beliefs, as the state police didn’t  “demonstrate that all conceivable accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the course of business,” which is what employers are required to do in this type of situation.

Roach declined to rule, as SPAM had sought, to declare that there was a breach of contract; that will be argued further at a later date.

This is the second time Leah Barrault, a local labor attorney, has had success in such a suit. She’s also the counsel for the Boston firefighters and police unions who who persuaded a state appellate judge to stop the city from moving forward with enforcement of its own mandate.

As Roach writes in her memorandum, as is the case for the Boston suit, this case is about collective bargaining — not about whether coronavirus exists or the vaccine to it works.

Roach cited the Boston unions’ decision in her ruling on this case, citing Appeals Court Justice Sabita Singh’s characterization of the cops and firefighters losing their jobs as a “Hobson’s choice, in other words, an apparently free choice with no real alternative.” Roach also says that the state, like the city, “fails to recognize or grapple with … non-economic harm” people suffer when they lose their jobs.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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