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118 Raleigh Employees Threaten to Sue Over Vaccine Mandate

A coalition of police officers, firefighters and other city employees have claimed that the city’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing rules are discriminatory. The city has a vaccination rate of approximately 78 percent.

(TNS) — More than 100 Raleigh, N.C., police officers, firefighters and other city employees are threatening legal action over vaccine requirements they say are discriminatory.

City of Raleigh Freedom to Choose, a coalition of 53 Raleigh police officers, 48 firefighters and 17 other city employees, has hired attorney James Lawrence to fight the city's policies, according to a letter sent by Lawrence to Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin on Monday.

In the letter, Lawrence cited the weekly testing requirement for non-vaccinated employees, cash bonus and paid leave incentives and a policy limiting promotions to those who are fully vaccinated as examples of a "discriminatory COVID-19 mandate."

Lawrence said the group was not "anti-vax," and "supports the right of city employees to make their own informed medical treatment choices," including whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Many of our clients have taken other vaccines. Our clients are not against science," Lawrence said in the letter. "What our clients oppose are top-down mandates, coercion, and control."

In a statement to The News & Observer on Thursday, Baldwin said she supported the rules in place.

"Our goal is to encourage vaccinations and reduce the spread of COVID — for the safety of our community and our employees," she said.

About 78 percent of the city's employees were vaccinated as of last week, said Julia Milstead, a spokeswoman for the city.

The city did not have any comment on the letter, she added.

Raleigh's Vaccine Policy

The city of Raleigh required that employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 17, or consent to weekly testing, The N&O previously reported.

Those who refused to participate in weekly testing face "progressive discipline," according to an email sent to city employees.

Raleigh also offered $250 bonuses and two days of paid leave as incentives to motivate employees to get the vaccine.

Under the current rules, city employees who are not vaccinated against the virus are also ineligible for promotions.

But city police, firefighters and employees at the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center who are not vaccinated will remain eligible for promotions until Dec. 31, The N&O reported.

Group Argues Policies Violate City, State Law

In the letter, Lawrence argued that by treating vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently, the city violated its own anti-discrimination policy.

Raleigh's anti-discrimination policy states the city will "oppose any discrimination based on actual or perceived age, mental or physical disability, sex, religion, race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial or marital status, economic status, veteran status or national origin in any aspect of modern life."

But Lawrence pointed to a subsection of that policy which directs the city manager to establish polices that "will insure that there is no discrimination in any function or area of City government."

He argued in the letter that the section does not specify any protected classes, and that the city's vaccine mandate discriminates against those who are not vaccinated.

Lawrence also said the mandate violated a state law that prohibits discrimination based on "genetic information," arguing that proteins created by the COVID-19 vaccine are "gene products" and vaccination status is thereby protected under the law.

The group has asked the city to respond by Oct. 23.

"They do not want to litigate against the City," Lawrence said in the letter. "But unless the mandate is lifted, our clients will be faced with no other choice but to ask a court to uphold their rights."

(c)2021 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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