Seven Massachusetts state troopers who lost their job after refusing to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which was ordered by a former governor in 2021, will be reinstated. An independent arbitrator ruled that the fired state troopers be offered their jobs back with full back pay, seniority rights and benefits.1
In August 2021, former Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, issued Executive Order No. 595 that all Executive Branch employees and contractors must get COVID shots and recommended boosters “as a condition of continuing employment.” As many as 42,000 employees and 2,000 state contractors were affected by the governor’s mandate, including teleworkers who had until Oct. 17, 2021 to receive either the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna/NIAID or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots—the latter of which has been taken off the market in the United States due to safety concerns—or face “disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”2 3
The COVID shot mandate provided exceptions for medical conditions and for those with “sincerely held religious beliefs.”4 The state police union attempted to have the governor’s mandate vacated by the court, but that request was denied.5
Eight State Troopers Placed on Administrative Leave Sue Police Department
On Mar. 3, 2022, the State Police Association of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight state troopers who were denied a religious exemption to the COVID vaccine mandate by the Department of the State Police and placed on administrative leave without pay. One trooper ultimately got the COVID shot and went back to work.6
Department of the State Police officials claimed that a religious accommodation could not be made “without sullying public trust, putting other officers and the public in danger, and impeding department operations” and the religious exemptions filed by the seven state troopers were denied. On Mar. 29, 2022, Judge Christine Roach of the Suffolk Superior Court issued an injunction against the police department preventing the state troopers from being fired pending the outcome of the lawsuit.7 8
Leah Barrault, an attorney representing the seven state troopers said that the religious exemption requests were not considered in a “sincere or legal way” and that the police department did not provide a “fair process and discussion to see if an accommodation is available” before being fired from their jobs.9
The Vaccine Mandate Violated Anti-Discrimination and Affirmative Action Rights
The arbitrator, Bonnie McSpirit, found that the troopers’ right to anti-discrimination and affirmative action were violated by the COVID vaccine mandate. The State Police Association of Massachusetts press release stated that the troopers were not offered “reasonable accommodations” for their “sincerely held” religious beliefs.10 11
McSpirit found that by denying a religious exemption to the state troopers, despite acknowledging that they qualified for one, the police department violated the contractual rights of the state troopers. She pointed out that the police department did not show sufficient evidence as to why accommodations could not be made for these seven state troopers in the same way religious exemptions had been granted to other state troopers. The decision ended a two-year legal battle between the state troopers and police department.12
Police Union Committed to “Making These Members Whole”
The police union issued a press release stating:
Governor Baker and his administration refused to listen or work with our Association, but today we can no longer be ignored. These members, whose religious convictions were trampled, and who were left without pay or benefits, now can choose to return to work and will be made whole through retroactive pay and earned seniority.13
State Police Association president Patrick McNamara said:
Earlier today, I had the distinct honor and privilege of informing seven of our Troopers, who have been suspended without pay due to Executive Order 595, that they would be returning to work. This fight began in October 2021 when the Association filed a grievance on their behalf. Since then, the Association has been committed to making these members whole. Through this lengthy and grueling grievance and arbitration process, the Association has remained steadfast in our fight to right the injustices of the Baker Administration.13
If you would like to receive an e-mail notice of the most recent articles published in The Vaccine Reaction each week, click here.Click here to view References:
1 Thorpe L. Arbitrator rules Mass. state troopers who lost jobs over COVID-19 vaccine refusal to be reinstated. Boston 25 News Aug. 5, 2023.
2 DeCosta-Klipa N. Charlie Baker orders over 40,000 state workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine — or potentially get fired. Boston.com Aug. 19, 2023.
3 Mole B. J&J’s COVID vaccine is dead in the US; FDA revokes authorization. Ars Technica June 6, 2023.
5 Sudborough S. State Police must reinstate 7 troopers who refused to get COVID-19 vaccine, arbitrator says. Boston.com Aug. 6, 2023.
6 Reynolds L. Massachusetts State Police wrong in punishing troopers over COVID-19 vaccine, arbitrator rules. Boston Herald Aug. 5, 2023.
7 Sudboorough S. Judge temporarily stops 7 troopers from being fired for defying vaccine mandate. Boston.com. Mar. 30, 2022.
8 Kuznitz A. Arbitration hearing: State Police union bashes Baker over vaccine mandate. Mass Live Dec. 21, 2022.
10 Sudborough S. State Police must reinstate 7 troopers who refused to get COVID-19 vaccine, arbitrator says. Boston.com Aug. 6, 2023.
12 DeCosta-Klipa N. Charlie Baker orders over 40,000 state workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine — or potentially get fired. Boston.com Aug. 19, 2023.
13 Rumph-Whitten S. Judge rules in favor of 7 Massachusetts State Troopers who lost jobs over refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Fox News Aug. 4, 2023.