By Corinne Murdock |
On Tuesday, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a civil rights lawsuit against Tucson over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.
In a press release, Brnovich argued that the mandate was a violation of personal liberty and an exemplar of government overreach.
“Tucson dictated a widespread vaccine mandate without regard to its impact on the liberties and civil rights of its employees,” said Brnovich. “Many of those affected are first responders, and it’s our turn to be there for them. The city’s misguided vaccine mandate is an ugly example of government overreach that we must vigorously oppose.”
Brnovich accused Tucson of punishing unvaccinated employees with unpaid suspension regardless of whether their exemption or accommodation requests were pending or approved. A majority of the city employees affected by the slim deadline were first responders.
According to the lawsuit, at least 377 city employees requested a medical exemption, and 352 employees requested a religious exemption.
The lawsuit further criticized the city’s blanket policy approach for requiring the vaccine, noting that some unvaccinated employees were or could work remotely. It alleged that the city made employment “more onerous” for unvaccinated employees.
Among those alleged more onerous requirements: the city gave vaccinated employees additional leave to recover from COVID-19 infection or to quarantine if a family member became infected with COVID-19 but denied that benefit to unvaccinated employees. Additionally, the city gave only vaccinated employees an 8-hour “floating holiday,” as well as the ability to travel outside of Pima County for job-related career enhancement opportunities. Furthermore, certain unvaccinated employees were required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing at their own expense.
In doing so, Tucson claimed its denial of equal treatment to unvaccinated employees was a means to incentivize vaccination.
“[The city of Tucson’s] purported ‘incentives’ were, severally and collectively, coercive actions that punished employees who could not comply with Defendant’s vaccine directives because of a sincerely-held religious belief and/or disability,” stated the lawsuit.
The city did put their vaccine mandate on hold last September, after Brnovich warned the city that its original five-day unpaid suspension of unvaccinated employees was unlawful. At the time, Brnovich said he would direct Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee to withhold the city’s state shared revenues, totaling over $175 million.
However, the city kept up its vaccine mandate. The next month, a divided city council voted to terminate the unvaccinated by December 1. Tucson’s action prompted Governor Doug Ducey to intervene. Ducey informed the city that their mandate conflicted with Arizona law.
However, the next month the Arizona Supreme Court overturned Arizona’s new law banning any level of government from requiring COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Mayor Regina Romero and other city leaders have insisted in public messaging that their workforce was mostly compliant with their vaccine mandate, which Romero called a “vaccine policy.”
Several weeks after Tucson’s deadline passed, Ducey issued an executive order banning local or state governments from issuing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. In a response statement, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero alluded to Brnovich’s legal opinion that employers could institute their own vaccine mandates as a defense of Tucson’s mandate.
“Arizona Attorney General Brnovich already told the governor what he doesn’t want to hear. He has no authority to preempt local actions through executive orders,” stated Romero.