Nine terminated firefighters sue to be reinstated

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The nine firefighters who were sacked for failing to comply with mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements now want to be reinstated and are suing the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and its commissioner, Dennis Mendiola, to make that happen.

In the lawsuit filed with the Superior Court last week, the terminated firefighters are alleging violations of their constitutional rights to privacy, due process, deprivation of rights and property, and violations of equal protection of the laws. They are asking the court to issue an injunctive relief, reinstating them as firefighters with back pay and cost of bringing the suit.

The firefighters also asked the court to issue an order declaring that their terminations were invalid and unlawful, and to set the terminations aside.

The nine firefighters—represented by attorney Jeffrey Horey—are 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.

The plaintiffs claimed that, by mandating an unconsented physical intrusion into the plaintiffs’ bodies—in this case the injection of a vaccine—the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to privacy was breached.

“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,” said the suit.

The plaintiffs also argue that, by imposing mandatory vaccination, defendants have deprived them of liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Constitution.

“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,” they stated.

According to court documents, Mendiola announced last March 16, 2021, that all department employees were required to register for vaccination by March 18. However, 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.

On March 18, the plaintiffs and 14 other firefighters petitioned Mendiola to exempt them but this was denied. Instead, on March 19, Mendiola placed the 23 signatories of the petition on administrative duty. Some of the signatories later agreed to be vaccinated, but not the nine plaintiffs

On April 12, the plaintiffs were notified that they would be terminated from DFEMS after 30 days, effective May 12, on the grounds of insubordination.

On April 28, the plaintiffs requested that the termination notices be rescinded, saying the proposed terminations would violate their constitutional rights.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

On May 14, the plaintiffs proposed numerous ideas to Mendiola for alternative duties they could perform that would enable them to continue in their jobs while reducing or eliminating the need for them to interact with members of the public. On May 20, Mendiola allegedly rejected all proposals.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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