Tyson Foods Moves to Dismiss COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement Lawsuit

Tyson Foods, Inc. has filed a motion to dismiss the remaining counts against them in an ongoing suit over their worker vaccine policy. They argue the plaintiffs failed to state a claim under the Tennessee Disability Act or under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The motion further argues that federal statutes preempt Tennessee’s anti-vaccine mandate law.

According to the complaint, on August 3, 2021 Tyson imposed a “draconian” vaccine mandate that required all employees to be fully vaccinated by November 1. of that year or be terminated. The plaintiffs, six former employees, sued in the Western District of Tennessee alleging this mandate was illegal under Tennessee and federal law. 

On December 9, 2021, Tyson moved to dismiss the case, and the following June, the Western District narrowed the case, without prejudice, to three claims. The first two state that Tyson’s vaccine mandate violates the Tennessee Disability Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. 

Tyson argues that they cannot have violated the aforementioned acts because their policy is applied equally to all employees. They further allege that neither act requires them to accommodate an employee’s religion or disability should either conflict with their ability to perform the job in question. 

The third claim alleges that Tyson’s policy violates Tennessee’s Title 14 which, among other things, states that “A private business… shall not compel a person to provide proof of vaccination if the person objects to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine for any reason.”

To this, Tyson first argues that the law does not apply to them since they are a private business and their policy went into effect before the law. The motion backs the latter up with precedent stating that laws do not apply retroactively unless the text specifically states they do. 

Tyson goes on to allege that then-President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act places Tyson’s health and safety practices squarely within the purview of the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The motion concludes with the affirmation that the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Poultry Products Inspection Act preempt all state regulations that fall within the purview of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). As such, the defendants argue, since Title 14 falls under what the USDA could regulate under the aforementioned acts, the law is inapplicable. 

Tyson is represented by Fisher Phillips, LLP. The plaintiffs are represented by Barnes Law and the Law Office of B. Tyler Brooks, PLLC.