Judge stops 7 troopers being fired for defying vaccine mandate for now

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The troopers had sought a religious exemption.

Seven Massachusetts State Police troopers are keeping their jobs for now despite the state trying to fire them for not following Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate for all public workers.

According to The Boston Globe, the seven troopers had sought a religious exemption from the mandate, and when denied, the State Police Association of Massachusetts (SPAM) filed a lawsuit on March 3 on their behalf.

On Wednesday, Judge Christine Roach issued an injunction that prevents them from being fired until the case is decided. Their next court date is April 28.

The Globe reported that the seven troopers, who are all currently on unpaid leave, were among 156 officers with SPAM who had filed applications for a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate.

All the applications were denied on the grounds that the police department could not accommodate them without sullying public trust, putting other officers and the public in danger, and impeding department operations, the Globe reported.

This included those of the seven troopers who State Police acknowledged in court documents held sincere religious beliefs that would be violated by getting a vaccine, the newspaper wrote.

According to the Globe, the lawsuit claims State Police failed to show the undue hardship accommodating the seven officers and allowing them to continue to work would cause the department.

“I find the Seven SPAM members have met their preliminary burden on the merits of the religious discrimination claim, and the Defendants have not met their preliminary burden on the merits of the reasonable accommodation defense,” Roach wrote in her decision.

Roach wrote that the case is not about whether vaccines work, but about collective bargaining and whether the troopers had an opportunity to resolve their issues.

She said the state gave them a “Hobson’s choice, in other words, an apparently free choice with no real alternative.”

Patrick McNamara, the president of SPAM, issued a statement on the ruling on Facebook Wednesday.

“While we are grateful for Judge Roach’s decision we are disappointed it was needed to begin with. Throughout this process the Baker Administration has continued to show they are unwilling to negotiate or accommodate Troopers who have sincerely held religious beliefs. We hope this ruling will encourage a change in his position on mandated vaccines and to bring all of our Troopers back to work.”

The Globe reported that the Baker administration referred to State Police for a comment, and State Police declined to comment.

The ruling applies only to the seven troopers in question, and the state may continue to enforce its vaccine mandate for other workers, Roach decided.

The Globe reported that Roach did not rule on the union’s assertion that there is a breach of contract.

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