You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

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

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

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 myStatesman.com.

Leander firefighter who refused vaccination sues to get job back


Highlights

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

Police increased presence around Pflugerville High after stranger approached girl
Police increased presence around Pflugerville High after stranger approached girl

Pflugerville police increased the number of officers who patrol near Pflugerville High School after a stranger approached a high school girl, then screamed at her when she walked away from him, the Pflugerville school district said in a letter to parents. This incident happened at a driving school adjacent to Pflugerville High School, the letter says...
UT survey details data on campus sexual assault, harassment, stalking
UT survey details data on campus sexual assault, harassment, stalking

The University of Texas has released the results of a survey on sexual violence and misconduct in which 15 percent of undergraduate women said they had been raped since being enrolled. The “Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments” report was sent to the UT community via email. “This survey is a wake-up call to me, as it should...
Police: Georgetown bank robber caught after fingerprints found on note
Police: Georgetown bank robber caught after fingerprints found on note

Police caught a bank robber in Georgetown after he left behind a note with his fingerprints on it, according to an arrest affidavit. Calvin Patterson, 33, of Killeen, was charged with robbery, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The robbery happened at 4:25 p.m. March 3 at the BBVA Compass Bank at 10 Spring St., the affidavit...
Murder charges dropped in shooting over drugs at Austin H-E-B
Murder charges dropped in shooting over drugs at Austin H-E-B

Murder charges were dropped this week after investigators took another look at a drug deal gone bad outside of an H-E-B store last spring in Southeast Austin. John Paul Montoya, 20, is cleared in the May 20 shooting of Jeffry Rudy Sierra Lopez, pending further investigation, court records show. He was released from jail on Wednesday, but was sentenced...
8-week-old boy found strapped to car seat in parking lot; parents arrested
8-week-old boy found strapped to car seat in parking lot; parents arrested

A Texas couple was charged with child endangerment Thursday after a woman told Harris County sheriff’s deputies that she found their 8-week-old child in the middle of a parking lot, according to multiple reports. A woman called police Tuesday night after finding the baby boy strapped to a car seat in a parking space in a Katy strip mall, ...
More Stories