Two law firms are pressing Rock County to withdraw its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy at Rock Haven nursing home or allow laid-off workers who have declined vaccination to return to their jobs.
In two letters sent to county officials Feb. 2 by different law firms, the attorneys argue the county’s mandate is unconstitutional and illegal. Both firms represent Rock Haven employees laid off last month after they declined to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Both letters obtained by The Gazette suggest that the employees could sue the county if it doesn’t repeal its mandate or allow laid-off workers who declined vaccination without an exemption to return to work.
One lawyer, Fitchburg attorney Michael Anderson, said he is representing several employees who either were laid off, quit or agreed to get the Moderna vaccine at Rock Haven against their will because they feared layoff.
Anderson sent a Feb. 2 demand letter to Rock County Administrator Josh Smith requesting that one of his clients, a longtime Rock Haven employee, and others who were laid off be “allowed to continue their employment with Rock County without jeopardizing said employment through the basic exercises of their Constitutional (privacy) rights.”
In another Feb. 2 letter, an attorney with the New York law firm Siri & Glimstad told Smith and Rock Haven Interim Administrator Sara Beran that Rock Haven’s vaccine mandate is “illegal” and “unenforceable.”
Siri & Glimstad bills itself on social media as a law firm specializing in “vaccine injury.”
Under a new county board resolution passed last month, some Rock Haven employees were allowed to decline the vaccine under exemptions tied to health concerns or religious objections. However, others have been laid off or quit because they refused the vaccine but didn’t meet exemptions, officials have said.
The Siri & Glimstad letter argues that the county should repeal the mandate because it “violates federal law” and “federal prohibition” of mandating vaccines that have not received full federal approval. The attorney demands that the county withdraw the mandate, calling it “coercion.”
The letter warns that if the county doesn’t rescind the mandate, it “will result in legal action being filed against you to strike down this illegal requirement. Govern yourselves accordingly.”
Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said her office has not yet received any claims that deal with the Rock Haven COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The Gazette obtained a copy of a letter from Rock County Corporation Counsel Richard Greenlee, who acknowledged that he had received Anderson’s letter. Greenlee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An attorney for Siri & Glimstad did not respond to a request for comment on the firm’s letter.
The firms represent different employees at Rock Haven, but both letters were dated Feb. 2, which was the same day the nursing home rolled out its second wave of mandated vaccinations for employees.
According to Rock Haven employees and staffing reports obtained by The Gazette, at least 20 employees—including some nurses—have either quit or been laid off for declining the vaccine after the mandate was implemented in late December.
Some staff members have told The Gazette they don’t intend to get the vaccine. Others have said they want to wait until the public has more time to learn how people tolerate the vaccine.
As of this week, COVID-19 vaccines continue to be available nationwide under federal emergency approval, but they have not yet received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
County officials said they initially mandated vaccines at Rock Haven to protect its elderly residents, a population health officials consider the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Anderson, who operates Fitchburg firm MJA Law, argues in his letter that Rock Haven employees have a right to privacy under state and federal law, and their “liberty interest” under the 14th Amendment could be violated by a vaccine mandate.
Anderson said he has learned that many of his clients are considered family to Rock Haven residents, who have been isolated from their loved ones for months.
He thinks the county’s enforcement of the mandate—which has stripped health care workers of their livelihoods at a time when the vaccine isn’t widely available—sends a message that contradicts the glowing descriptions some public officials have applied to nurses during the pandemic.
“My goal is to help these heroes, these frontline workers, the ones that were trumpeted when COVID first came out,” he said.