As discussed in last week’s EmployNews, the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of the standard for considering religious accommodation requests may expand employers’ obligations to agree to employee requests, including religious-based objections to mandatory vaccination policies. However, another recent Supreme Court case may have limited or eliminated another legal argument put forward by opponents of vaccination requirements.
In a recent federal lawsuit filed against the city of Chicago, municipal employees who object to its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy claimed that the requirement violated their right to a religious accommodation exempting them from vaccination. However, the plaintiffs in this case, as with those in similar lawsuits across the U.S., also allege that the vaccination requirement violates their right to bodily autonomy. Chicago moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming in part that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated any legal claim to bodily autonomy.
Dobbs of course reversed Roe v. Wade, finding no constitutional right to abortion. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment’s due process clause did not create a right to individual bodily autonomy. The city asked the court to dismiss those claims as “conclusively foreclosed” by Dobbs.
This argument does not directly impact the plaintiffs’ religious accommodation claims. However, in cases where the claimed religious prohibition against vaccination is tenuous, the potential loss of this alternative legal theory could substantially limit the ability of employees who object to mandatory vaccination policies to seek judicial relief.