LA won’t have to pay firefighters who refuse vaccine during termination proceedings

A judge Tuesday denied a preliminary injunction sought by a group of Los Angeles firefighters who sued the city, asking to be paid pending due process hearings before possible termination for refusing to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Saying the balance of harms weighed against granting their request, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield issued his final ruling a day after hearing arguments in the lawsuit filed Sept. 17 by the nonprofit Firefighters4Freedom Foundation.

The group alleged the city’s directive, among other things, violates their members’ constitutionally protected right to privacy.

After hearing arguments, Linfield, speaking before an audience that included some firefighters, took the case under submission and issued his decision Tuesday morning.

“The court finds that the balance of harms weighs against granting the preliminary injunction,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff has not made the significant showing of irreparable harm necessary to enjoin a public entity in the performance of its duties.”

Linfield’s final ruling reflected the conclusions he made when he issued a tentative ruling on Sunday.

City Attorney Mike Feuer praised the ruling, the third recent decision involving unsuccessful challenges to the city employee vaccine order made by firefighters and the LAPD union.

“For the third time this month, my office has successfully fought back a misguided attempt to halt the vaccine mandate — an effort that would have placed the health of the public and fellow first responders at risk,” Feuer said.

“In the strongest terms yet, this court underscored the emergency we continue to confront. Beyond this litigation, with COVID cases doubling in just a few days, I urge all Angelenos to get fully vaccinated and receive booster shots. We owe that much to each other.”

Attorney Scott J. Street, on behalf of the firefighters, told the judge during arguments Monday that his clients were not asking that the vaccination ordinance not be enforced or that firefighters placed on leave for being unvaccinated be put back on duty. He said they just wanted to continue being paid while they await their termination due process hearings.

“What they really need is their livelihood, their paycheck,” Street said.

But Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Gregg countered that under the emergency coronavirus declaration made by the city, there was a specific finding that the city lacked the funds to pay the unvaccinated while also paying overtime to their replacements.

The judge said he understood the financial burden and harm experienced by unvaccinated firefighters on unpaid leave, but that, on balance, health and safety takes priority.

“More importantly, any harm to the firefighters who refuse to be vaccinated is vastly outweighed by the life-threatening harm of permitting over a hundred unvaccinated firefighters to continue living, eating and sleeping with fellow firefighters at over 106 city firehouses,” the judge wrote.

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