Maine health care workers have until Monday to reveal names in lawsuit over vaccine mandate

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Jul. 8—Nine Maine health care workers who sued Gov. Janet Mills and others over the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers now have until Monday to reveal their names.

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston on Thursday denied a motion by the workers to remain anonymous and gave them until Friday to comply with the order by filing an amended complaint with their names. But on Friday the plaintiffs were granted an extension of one business day — until Monday, July 11 — to file the amended complaint.

Attorneys for Liberty Counsel, a conservative, religious law firm in Florida that represents the health care workers, said in a court filing Friday that the one-day extension is needed to give lawyers time to speak with each plaintiff about whether they want to proceed with the disclosure of their identities in an amended complaint.

The defendants and media intervenors in the case, which included the Portland Press Herald, consented to the one-day extension.

The plaintiffs informed attorneys for media intervenors in the case that they will not file further appeals in the case.

The plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August, before the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers at designated Maine care facilities went into effect on Oct. 20, 2021. They argued that it was their religious right to refuse the vaccine over their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions are used to develop the vaccines.

Maine's mandate does not allow for religious exemptions.

Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, were named as defendants in the lawsuit along with the governor and several health care agencies.

The lawsuit prompted several Maine newspapers to intervene in an effort to force the plaintiffs to be identified. The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion in November 2021 challenging the group's right to file the complaint anonymously. The newspapers argued that the plaintiffs "alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public's interest in open legal proceedings," according to court documents.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy ruled May 31 that the plaintiffs cannot remain anonymous and ordered them to file an amended complaint with their names by June 7. Levy said in his ruling that "plaintiffs' religious beliefs and their resulting medical decisions not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether considered separately or together, do not present privacy interests so substantial as to support pseudonymous proceedings. In the final analysis, however, there is a near-total absence of proof that their expressed fears are objectively reasonable."

The plaintiffs appealed the June 7 deadline and were granted until July 8 to comply with his decision, which the appellate court judges upheld Thursday. They wrote in their ruling that the plaintiffs "have not established a threat of irreparable harm."

"The public interest and the media intervenors' interests weigh in favor of denying the stay due to the presumption of public access," the justices wrote.