RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A group of 118 first responders and other City of Raleigh employees have hired an attorney to fight the city’s new COVID-19 employment mandate. They call it discriminatory.
Attorney James Lawrence represents 53 police officers, 44 firefighters, and 17 City of Raleigh employees who are unvaccinated. Under the city’s new mandate, getting a promotion now hinges on getting the vaccine.
“Quite frankly, they’re heroes,” Lawrence said. “They’re working-class people who have been told by the city that if they want to get promoted, unless they have a medical or religious exemption, otherwise they have to get the vaccine.”
Lawrence is a partner at Envisage Law.
“We think it fundamentally violates the city’s own stated goals of equity and inclusion providing employment opportunities for all people.”
The group of first responders and city employees recently formed a group called the “City of Raleigh Freedom to Choose Coalition.” Lawrence said they’re a diverse group of Republicans and Democrats. They’re not anti-vaccine or anti-science, but they do believe in personal choice.
“Let’s be very clear: COVID-19 is a significant public health issue,” he said. “Our clients believe that wholeheartedly.”
Lawrence sent a 14-page letter to Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and the city’s attorney on Monday that points out that, under state law, the city can’t deny employment to someone based on their “genetic information.”
“Genetic information as defined by the statute includes information concerning an employees gene products and as the letter outlines in detail, proteins are gene products,” he said, “and in this particular case, our clients, the diverse people that have come together to form this coalition, are being discriminated against, are being treated differently on the basis of whether or not they have spike proteins in their body that have been induced by vaccines.”
Dan Bowling is a Duke Law Professor and nationally recognized expert on employment issues surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Bowling said the state’s genetic discrimination law was originally created for sickle cell anemia.
“It hasn’t been tested at all in the case of vaccines,” he said. “It could find a friendly court or judge in that. It also claims violations under federal discrimination laws on a number of grounds.”
In regards to the city’s new promotion rules, Bowling said: “Tying vaccination status to promotions is somewhat illogical to me. I can understand more easily termination, quite frankly, than promotions, which are traditionally based on merit and/or seniority.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Lawrence said the city hasn’t responded to his letter. He said he’s hoping to find common ground but isn’t ruling out a lawsuit.
Bowling added, “It’ll be interesting to see if the city tries to settle this in some way, or reach some sort of compromise, or whether this winds up in court.”
The city of Raleigh had no comment on the letter.