Weapons Complex Monitor Vol. 32 No. 44
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Article 5 of 12
November 12, 2021

Judge Declines to Block Los Alamos Lab Vax Mandate

By Dan Leone

Declining to block the labs COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a judge ruled Monday that Los Alamos National Laboratory Employees who will not take a required COVID-19 vaccine and are unsatisfied with receiving unpaid leave as their religious exemption from the shot must hash things out with the lab in arbitration.

Pending the outcomes of other lawsuits about the vaccine mandate, that will keep Los Alamos’ mandate on the books for as long it takes the lab and the eight employees who sued it in federal court in late October to finish arbitration. 

In a Monday opinion and order, U.S. District Judge Kea Riggs agreed with the lab that granting the plaintiffs an injunction against the lab’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate before these vaccine refusers finish arbitration with the lab’s operations contractor would be tantamount to handing the employees a win in arbitration without actually going through arbitration.

That would make little sense, lab operations contractor Triad National Security told the U.S. District Court for New Mexico on Friday, because the employees who sued consented to arbitration in their employment agreements with the lab. However, the plaintiffs didn’t bother seeing an arbitrator before suing the contractor in federal court and asking for an injunction, Triad said.

Under these circumstances, a court-ordered reversal of the vaccine mandate “would not only eviscerate Triad’s right to a meaningful arbitration, it would create a dangerous precedent allowing future plaintiffs to seek an injunction reversing an adverse employment action prior to exhausting their administrative remedies and despite agreeing to arbitrate their employment-related disputes,” Triad wrote in Friday’s filing.

The injunction also would force the lab to bring the plaintiffs, and anyone else who received a religious exemption, back to work and to pay them until the lawsuit was resolved. That would give the plaintiffs, as a group, “all of the relief they could attain in individual arbitration and then some.” 

Nearly all of Triad’s employees, 99%, according to the lab, are now fully vaccinated. The remainder have either left the lab or secured medical or religious exemptions to the mandate. Religious exemptions allow only for unpaid leave, and the plaintiffs in this case say Triad only has to hold their jobs open for a month or so, once leave starts.

Triad is a partnership of Battelle, the University of California and Texas A&M University, with industry subcontractors Fluor and Huntington Ingalls Industries.

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