People placed on leave from the Los Alamos National Laboratory for refusing a COVID-19 vaccinations will get no help from the courts in ongoing arbitration proceedings with the lab, a federal judge in New Mexico said recently.
The decision dropped Halloween night in the U.S. District Court for New Mexico, where Judge Kea Riggs told the eight plaintiffs, who sued the lab over its vaccine mandate in 2021, that she would not reopen their lawsuit or force lab management contractor Triad National Security to combine their currently separate arbitration cases with the lab.
The plaintiffs “are or were employees of Defendant Triad National Security,” reads an Oct. 31 order denying the motion to reopen the case, which was stayed last year when Riggs sent the vaccine-objectors back to the lab with admonishments that they should not have tried to circumvent employee-employer arbitration that they agreed to when they were hired.
“[A]fter arbitration proceedings have started, Plaintiffs ask the Court to intervene and order that proceedings be consolidated, apparently without the arbitrator issuing a decision on consolidation,” Riggs wrote in her order. “The Court declines to do so.”
In October 2022, Los Alamos, like much of the rest of the country, had drastically reduced on-site mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19, including mask mandates and mass telework.
But in August 2021, when the eight employees filed suit, much of the U.S. adult population had been vaccinated against the potentially deadly respiratory disease for only the first time and Los Alamos had rolled out perhaps the strictest vaccination mandate in the nuclear security enterprise: essentially, get vaccinated or get placed on leave after securing a religious exemption to the mandate.
Los Alamos’ mandate preceded even the Biden administration’s national mandate that required contractors to either get vaccinated or find new jobs.
The Department of Energy never publicly issued a comprehensive accounting of the number of its federal civil servants and contractors who were vaccinated against COVID-19.
In response to years of ongoing queries by sister publication the Exchange Monitor, most of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s major site management and operations contractors had by December 2021 self-reported employee vaccination rates of 80% to 90% or higher.