THE nine firefighters who were terminated for refusing to take Covid-19 vaccination have sued the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and its commissioner, Dennis Mendiola, in his official capacity in Superior Court.

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday asked the court to issue an order declaring that the terminations of the nine firefighters were invalid and unlawful, and to set the terminations aside. 

The plaintiffs are alleging violations of their constitutional rights to privacy, due process, deprivation of rights and property, and violations of equal protection of the laws.

Represented by attorney Jeffrey Horey, the plaintiffs want the court to issue an injunctive relief, reinstating them as firefighters, with back pay and cost of the suit.

The plaintiffs — all of whom are civil employees before their terminations —include Paul T. Acebedo, Jose K. Angui, Allen T. Calvo, Cain C. Castro, Argernon A. Flores, Derek B. Gersonde, Shawn DLR Kaipat, Philip M. Kalen and Adam J. Safer.

According to the lawsuit, on March 16, 2021 the DFEMS commissioner announced that all department employees were required to register for vaccination by March 18, 2021. 

Several firefighters were reluctant to receive the vaccine due to their concerns over its possibly adverse short-term effects and its unknown long-term effects, the lawsuit stated.

On March 18, 2021, the plaintiffs and other firefighters petitioned Mendiola to exempt them from the vaccine requirement. However, no exemption was granted. Instead, on March 19, 2021, Mendiola placed the signatories of the petition on administrative duty.

Some of the signatories agreed to be vaccinated, but the plaintiffs did not.

On April 12, 2021, the plaintiffs were notified that they would be terminated from DFEMS after 30 days, i.e., on May 12, 2021, on the ground of insubordination.

On April 28, 2021, the plaintiffs requested that the termination notices be rescinded, saying that the proposed terminations would violate their constitutional rights to individual privacy and due process of law. While the issue was under consideration, the termination date was extended to May 21, 2021.

On May 14, 2021, the plaintiffs proposed numerous ideas to Mendiola for alternative duties they could perform that would enable them to continue in their jobs while substantially reducing or eliminating the need for them to interact with others, particularly with members of the general public.

On May 20, 2021, Mendiola rejected all of these proposals in a letter, the lawsuit stated.

“By mandating an unconsented physical intrusion into the plaintiffs’ bodies, to wit, the injection of a vaccine, defendants have breached plaintiffs’ constitutional right of privacy,” it added.

“There is a constitutionally protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment. The forcible injection of medication into a nonconsenting person’s body represents a substantial interference with that person’s liberty. A person’s interest in freedom from unwanted medical treatment is fundamental. It can be infringed only upon a showing that the protection of a compelling public interest could not have been accomplished by any other less intrusive means, and the government has not shown and cannot show this,”  the lawsuit stated.

“By imposing mandatory vaccination upon the employees of the executive branch, including plaintiffs, defendants have deprived them of liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Constitution,” the lawsuit added.

“The equal protection clause prohibits discrimination in the exercise of fundamental rights, absent a showing that the protection of a compelling public interest could not have been accomplished by any other less intrusive means.

“By accepting free exercise of religion as an exemption from vaccination, while not accepting the rights of individual privacy, due process, and freedom from unconsented bodily intrusions asserted by plaintiffs, defendants have established a preference for one fundamental constitutional right, and those who assert it, over another, in violation of the equal protection of the law,” the lawsuit stated.

Reporter

Bryan Manabat studied criminal justice at Northern Marianas College. He covers the community, tourism, business, police and court beats.

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