You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Leander firefighter who refused vaccination sues to get job back


Brett Horvath refused to get vaccination because of his religious beliefs, his lawyer said.

Executive director of Williamson County and Cities Health District said not getting vaccine was irresponsible.

A former Leander firefighter who refused to get a vaccination because of his religious beliefs has sued the city for firing him.

The termination came in March 2016, after firefighter Brett Horvath refused to get the vaccination or wear a surgical mask for his entire 24-hour shift or transfer to a “less desirable” position, said his lawyer, Matt Bachop. He said Horvath refused in February 2016 to get the shot for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus because it was against his Christian beliefs.

The Leander Fire Department had previously exempted Horvath from vaccinations because of his religious beliefs against prophylactic vaccinations, Bachop said Tuesday. Leander Fire Chief Bill Gardner dropped the exemption after February 2016.

“Gardner said it was a public health/public safety issue,” Bachop said, noting that as a Leander firefighter Horvath did respond to emergency medical service calls.

Gardner told the American-Statesman he couldn’t comment about the lawsuit Tuesday because it was pending litigation.

Joanna Salinas, the attorney representing the city of Leander, said, “The city worked diligently with Mr. Horvath to develop alternatives that would accommodate his religious beliefs and still fulfill its obligation to protect the health and safety of City personnel and members of the public that are served by the city of Leander Fire Department.”

“Mr. Horvath rejected the city’s efforts,” Salinas said.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Christine Mann, said she wasn’t aware of any state requirements for vaccination of first responders. “However, many EMS providers and first responder organizations may require first responders to be vaccinated according to their exposure control plans,” she said.

Prophylactic vaccinations protect people from getting diseases by injecting them with a weakened or diluted form of the disease to encourage their bodies to form antibodies.

Horvath didn’t want to wear the mask while he wasn’t out on medical calls during his shift because he saw no medical reason for it, said Bachop.

Gardner refused to negotiate and fired Horvath on March 29, 2016, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Horvath was discriminated against for his religious beliefs. Horvath wants his job back plus back pay, Bachop said.

Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan said Tuesday that his firefighters are allowed to sign a form declining vaccinations for “conscientious” objections including religious or medical reasons. “Sometimes we’ve seen it where they decline flu immunizations, but I haven’t had anyone decline the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine,” he said.

Bachop — who as a general counsel for the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters has handled various employment cases for firefighters — said he has never seen another case of a firefighter being fired after refusing to get a vaccination.

Diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are bacterial infections that can be spread through the air. Tetanus is a bacterial disease that often enters the body through cuts and isn’t communicable. Diphtheria is “very rare” but pertussis is more common, said John Teel, executive director of the Williamson County and Cities Health District.

Teel said he thought it would be “irresponsible” to allow a firefighter who responds to emergency medical service calls not to be vaccinated. “I would not want a first responder capable of being infected by a disease to give it to me while they were trying to get help for me,” he said.

Horvath had worked as a Leander firefighter for almost four years, said Bachop. He said he didn’t know why Horvath’s religious beliefs forbid him to get prophylactic vaccinations.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Man causes delay of TV newscast in New Mexico
Man causes delay of TV newscast in New Mexico

Saturday night’s newscast at a New Mexico television station was delayed when a man attempted to break into the facility, station officials said. >> Read more trending news On its Facebook pace, KOB in Albuquerque apologized for the delay. Just before 10 p.m., a man began pounding on the front door of the station. Officials called...
101-year-old Alabama man gets high school diploma
101-year-old Alabama man gets high school diploma

Thursday night’s graduation ceremony at an Alabama high school included a man who finally earned his diploma after 84 years. At 101 years old, John Presley Motes graduated with Goshen High School’s Class of 2017, but he is older than his classmates — and also older than the school officials who handed him his diploma. Motes was born...
Expansion celebrated at Phoenix House
Expansion celebrated at Phoenix House

Community news: Youth Innovations Showcase on Tuesday

TRAVIS COUNTY DOWNTOWN AUSTIN Innovations Showcase on Tuesday EcoRise Youth Innovations and the city of Austin’s office of sustainability will host the third annual Student Innovation Showcase from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 301 W. Second St. Middle and high school students from local public, private and charter schools will demonstrate...
Seniors learn the power of music
Seniors learn the power of music

More Stories