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A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine to another health care worker at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in a December 2020 Gazette file photo. Rock County's nursing home, Rock Haven, is requiring staff receive the vaccine for COVID-19, and the nursing home is laying off employees who decline to get vaccinated.

JANESVILLE

An attorney has served Rock County with notice of lawsuits that would seek $550,000 in damages for 11 workers the county laid off at its Rock Haven nursing home after the workers refused the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year.

In a notice of claim filed at the Rock County Clerk’s Office, Fitchburg attorney Michael Anderson notified the county he was seeking $50,000 in lost wages and benefits, plus reimbursement of legal fees for each of the 11 Rock Haven employees he is representing.

The legal notice argues that the 11 Rock Haven employees were wrongly laid off and later terminated over a county mandate that required them to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during scheduled clinics the nursing home held in January and February.

Anderson threatened legal action earlier this year on behalf of the laid-off employees, arguing that Rock County and its county-run nursing home violated federal law by requiring all its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine under a vaccination schedule the county had set for the workers.

The notice, which Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson confirmed Anderson had filed this week, is not a lawsuit, but it sets the ball in motion on possible legal action against the county and Rock Haven.

Anderson wrote in the notice that the county has ignored his repeated requests to discuss the worker layoffs and vaccination mandate, which remains in effect.

The claim Anderson filed this week continues to argue that federal law doesn’t allow public or private entities to force workers to receive a vaccine that lacks full approval for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Earlier this year, the county had mandated Rock Haven workers receive the Moderna vaccine, which since earlier this year has been authorized for federal “emergency use” only.

Anderson has argued that federal law allows anyone to decline emergency-use authorized vaccines. In the legal notice, Anderson argues that the a top official in the federal CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices publicly said that “individuals” have the right to decline emergency authorized vaccines.

“Rock County’s vaccine mandate is directly violative of…federal law and is a deliberate and unlawful taking away of Rock Haven’s statutorily-guaranteed right to decide for themselves whether to accept or refuse administration of a COVID-19 vaccine,” Anderson wrote in the notice.

In a separate claim in the notice, Anderson refers to all 11 workers as “former Rock Haven employees,” and argues the county’s “layoff/termination” of the workers is an illegal and “retaliatory” action against the workers.

Anderson argues the workers had a right under law to decline what he calls an “illegally” mandated COVID-19 vaccine and not face layoff or other sanctions by the county or Rock Haven.

It’s not clear from Anderson’s notice whether the county or Rock Haven has terminated any of the 11 employees outright, or if the nursing home has back filled any of their work positions while they were laid off.

On Thursday, The Gazette was unable to reach Rock County Corporation Counsel Richard Greenlee for comment.

County officials and Rock Haven in a December notice to workers announced the mandate and told the workers that they’d be laid off and not allowed to return to work unless they took the vaccine.

County officials earlier had said the county mandated the vaccines because it sought to protect Rock Haven’s vulnerable, elderly residential population from COVID-19 infection.

Although the county initially laid off a few dozen Rock Haven workers who’d declined the vaccines, the county eventually agreed to grant personal health or religious exemptions for a handful of the employees who had declined.

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