Texas Firefighter Sues Over Mandatory Vaccination

A Texas firefighter who was fired last year for refusing to get a required vaccination is suing for religious discrimination. Brett Horvath was terminated from the Leander Fire Department in March 2016 after he refused to get vaccinated for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT). He had been on the department for almost four years when he was fired.

Horvath’s refusal to get the vaccination was based on his religious beliefs. According to the complaint, Leander accommodated Horvath’s religious preferences until February 2016 at which point the department told him he needed to get the vaccination or “propose a substitute accommodation in order to retain his position.” Despite some preliminary discussions about an accommodation involving the wearing of a surgical mask, an agreement was not reached and Horvath was terminated.

The complaint claims that the city took the position that Horvath would have to wear the surgical mask for the duration of his 24-hour work shift, and refused to consider less restrictive alternatives.

The American Statesman quoted Leander’s attorney, Joanna Salinas, as saying: “The city worked diligently with Mr. Horvath to develop alternatives that would accommodate his religious beliefs and still fulfill its obligation to protect the health and safety of City personnel and members of the public that are served by the city of Leander Fire Department.”

The suit was filed on March 2, 2017 in Williamson County District Court, alleging violations of Horvath’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights as well as Violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Horvath is seeking reinstatement with backpay, plus interest, costs and attorneys fees.

A big thank you to Horvath’s attorney, Matt Bachop, for providing a copy of the complaint: Horvath v Leander

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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