Vaccine

A group of students at the University of Cincinnati (UC) filed a lawsuit last month against the university over its COVID-19 vaccination requirement, calling it discriminatory and seeking to end the mandate. 

The lawsuit, filed in the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, argues that UC's rule violates both state law and the Ohio Constitution by taking away students' right to medical refusal. 

Four UC students – Benjamin Lipp, Danielle Seymore, Katelyn Verbarg and Nicholai Lekson – brought the lawsuit forward, requesting that the court shoot down the requirement. According to court documents, three of the students – Lipp, Seymore and Verbag – have exemptions from the vaccination mandate. 

Lekson is vaccinated against COVID-19, but the lawsuit notes that he objects to UC's vaccination requirement and the possibility of having to receive a booster shot later to stay in school. According to UC, booster shots may be required in the future. 

The lawsuit said that UC officials lack the authority to enforce the requirement because of Ohio state law. Specifically, they claim that the mandate violates a provision of House Bill 244 that bans public schools and universities from instituting COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

However, that law is largely considered moot now after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those 16-years-old and over in August of last year. 

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been granted full approval by the FDA, but both are approved for emergency use. 

UC implemented its vaccine requirement last September. According to its website, any COVID-19 vaccine that is endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) – such as Pfizer, Moderna or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines – satisfy the requirement. 

Students who do not receive a COVID-19 vaccine or have an exemption must get tested for the virus every week. 

Students who fail to meet the requirements by the end of the Spring 2022 semester "will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards for disciplinary action, which can lead to separation from the university," according to UC. The mandate also applies to UC staff and faculty. 

The lawsuit also mentions UC's indoor mask mandate, saying that students also have a right to refuse to wear masks under the Ohio Constitution. 

"Universities are bound by state law, which limits what they can do," Warner Mendenhall, the students' lawyer, told The News Record. "And what they absolutely cannot do is discriminate between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in any way."

Mendenhall added that he feels like the lawsuit will prevail in court – citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Thursday decision to block President Joe Biden's nationwide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large businesses. The high court did leave Biden's mandate for most healthcare workers in place. However, the Supreme Court's ruling does not stop individual businesses from mandating the vaccine. 

"It is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated," Biden said in a statement

The law firm also filed similar lawsuits against vaccination requirements at Miami University, Bowling Green State University and Ohio University. 

A UC spokesperson told The News Record that the university doesn't comment on pending litigation. However, according to UC, the university has long required vaccination for students and employees against other viruses, like influenza, hepatitis and others. 

The case will be heard by Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz, with an initial case conference scheduled for March 15.

News Director

Zachary Jarrell has been with The News Record since 2020 as a staff reporter, opinion reporter and now news director. He has interned with Gateway Journalism Review and The National Memo.