200 city employees sue over vaccine mandate

A lawsuit by more than 200 City of Gainesville employees and contractors alleges that the city’s vaccine mandate violates state and federal law, according to a release by Childers Law who filed the lawsuit Thursday evening on the employee’s behalf.

“Just a few months ago, the city called these employees heroes while they were showing up every day and keeping the water, power, and emergency services running,” Attorney Jeff Childers said in the press release. “Now the city calls them the problem.”

The vaccine mandate was part of a series of COVID-related proposals that Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos brought to the Gainesville commission on Aug. 6.

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The commission passed the measures 4-3 with Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Gail Johnson and Harvey Ward in dissent.

In a phone interview with Mainstreet Daily News earlier that week, Hayes-Santos said that the spike in the community spread of the virus had prompted him to recommend the actions.

At the beginning of the night, the vaccine mandate looked headed for defeat until Commissioner Reina Saco changed her mind during the course of the discussion

“I don’t think it is my job to force you to get a vaccine,” Saco said early in the discussion. “All I can do is beg you to have some common sense and care about yourself.”

However, following a long set of public commentators about the COVID measures, many of whom made unsubstantiated claims about the vaccines and their effectiveness, Saco changed her mind.

Two weeks later, the commission extended the deadline for employees to submit proof of their first vaccination to Oct. 1 and added city contractors to the mandate.

Now, 200 employees and contractors―including firefighters, police officers, electrical workers, and other city personnel―are suing.

The press release listed two principal reasons.

First, the city mandate violates state law that prohibits government agencies from restricting access to facilities or services based on vaccination status.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 2006 into law on May 3. The law also includes companies and educational institutions.

Second, the release said Gainesville’s mandate violates an employee’s right to privacy and bodily integrity under state and federal constitutions.

Currently, no hearing is set.

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