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City employees sue city of Charleston over vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 11:15 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2021 at 8:59 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Forty-four Charleston employees filed a lawsuit against Mayor John Tecklenburg and the city of Charleston over the Holy City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to court documents.

The plaintiffs include 28 city firefighters and six city police officers, according to court documents.

The suit targets the city’s vaccine mandate for “all city employees, volunteers, interns and agency temporary employees, whether working on a full or part-time schedule” to be fully vaccinated as a condition of continued employment by Nov. 22.

“The individual plaintiffs are City employees, volunteers, interns and agency temporary employees as defined in the Policy who want to exercise control over their own medical treatment and are being forced to choose between their rights, privileges, and liberties as citizens on the one hand and their employment, careers, and financial futures on the other,” the suit states.

The suit alleges the city’s vaccine mandate is unenforceable because it “conflicts with the South Carolina Constitution’s guarantee of free expression, violates the South Carolina’s Home Rule Act, violates DHEC’s General Supervision of Vaccination, Screening, and Immunization, would result in a common law wrongful discharge of the Plaintiffs, violates Substantive Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, free exercise, and due process, and deprives plaintiffs of their fundamental right to refuse medical treatment.”

Court documents argue the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has the authority to declare regulations concerning vaccine and immunization requirements but that municipalities do not.

“The Policy deprives Plaintiffs of their property interest in their jobs at the City of Charleston without due process,” the suit alleges. “To the extent Plaintiffs are treated differently from other similarly situated employees, volunteers, interns and agency temporary employees the Policy is also a violation of the Plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the law.”

The lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon, the same day a group of Charleston County employees and vendors launched a similar suit against a county vaccine mandate.

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction to the policy.

On Friday afternoon, city of Charleston Spokesman Jack O’Toole said the safety of employees and citizens was the the city’s first priority and the city hoped the issues would be addressed quickly.

“The safety of our employees and the citizens we serve is always our first priority. For that reason, it is our hope that the judicial system will address these issues quickly so we can move forward with the measures needed to protect our workforce and our community,” O’Toole said.

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