COVID vaccine mandate for federal workers can't be challenged in court -4th Circ.

A nurse fills up syringes with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin
  • Federal employees must bring administrative challenge before going to court
  • Another appeals court came to the same conclusion
  • White House says 98% of federal workers complied with mandate

(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday said government employees cannot sue over President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers, echoing another court that came to the same conclusion and reinstated the mandate earlier this month.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said two employees of federal agencies had to first raise their challenge to the mandate through the administrative scheme laid out in the federal Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA).

The CSRA says federal workers must bring legal disputes in a grievance process that culminates at the Merit Systems Protection Board. That agency's decisions can then be appealed in federal court.

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A divided panel of the 5th Circuit came to the same conclusion in an April 7 ruling, reversing a federal judge who had blocked the vaccine mandate nationwide.

The White House and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nor did Jonathan Bolls, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Biden in September said he would require about 3.5 million federal government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. The White House in January said 98% of federal employees had been vaccinated or were seeking an exemption.

The plaintiffs in Tuesday's case claimed Biden lacked the authority to issue the mandate, and that it violated their constitutional rights.

A Maryland federal judge in November disagreed and dismissed the case. The 4th Circuit on Tuesday said the judge should never have taken up the claims because the workers were bound by the process established in the CSRA.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Biden's COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, a policy conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans. The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities to stand.

The case is Rydie v. Biden, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2359.

For the plaintiffs: Jonathan Bolls

For the government: Sarah Carroll of the U.S. Department of Justice

Read more:

Biden to require all federal workers to be vaccinated -source

U.S. court reinstates Biden federal employee COVID vaccine mandate

U.S. Supreme Court blocks Biden vaccine-or-test policy for large businesses

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.