Fire rescue employees file lawsuit against Orange County over vaccine mandate

County mandate requires employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Forty-three employees with Orange County Fire Rescue filed a lawsuit Friday morning, suing the county over its vaccine mandate, documents show.

The filing comes a day after a deadline set by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings for county employees to have received at least one dose in a two-dose series from either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson.

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The lawsuit says it is suing against the “unlawful and unconstitutional COVID-19 vaccine requirement.”

“Now, suddenly, as a result of the mere existence of experimental vaccines hastily developed to combat COVID-19 spread, plaintiffs are inexplicably no longer appreciated for their sacrifice and admirable efforts for years, and particularly, the last 18 months,” the lawsuit says.

Jason Wheat, a firefighter listed as one of the plaintiffs, spoke with News 6 on Sept. 23 about the county mandate.

“A written mandate stays in your file for a year and a half and that will take our members away from getting a promotional exam,” Wheat said. “We think that this is against our constitutional rights to get mandated to get something stuck in our body.”

The lawsuit says the mandate provides “discriminatory ‘incentives’ to individuals who waive reservations and comply with the vaccine certification.”

The mayor said in a letter to county employees issued on Sept. 15 that incentives for employees who received the vaccine by Aug. 31, the original deadline for at least one dose, would be a one-time bonus of $250 paid in October as well as one day of personal leave. Those who received a vaccine after Aug. 31 but on or before Sept. 30 would receive one day of personal leave.

On Sept. 23, Demings said firefighters who do not comply with the mandate will not face termination but will instead receive a written reprimand.

“There were discussions with the International Association of Firefighters regarding the vaccine mandate. This is where we stand at this point. We are offering a cap on the disciplinary actions for those who choose not to comply with the mandate. I want to be clear here, it was never my intention to terminate anyone from our employment,” Demings said during a news briefing. “My desire and goal was to increase the rate of vaccinations amongst our employees and we have accomplished that.”

The lawsuit adds that the county dose not have legal authority and violates Florida law to require vaccination of county employees.

News 6 has reached out to Orange County for comment about the lawsuit.

Read the full lawsuit below.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.