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Judge temporarily halts firing of 7 State Police troopers over vaccine mandate

A Suffolk Superior Court judge sided with the State Police troopers’ union on Wednesday, granting an injunction that temporarily prevents the state from firing seven troopers who had sought a religious exemption from the coronavirus vaccine mandate, according to court documents.

The seven troopers, who are all currently on unpaid leave, were among 156 officers with the State Police Association of Massachusetts (SPAM) who had filed applications for a religious exemption from Governor Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate for all public workers. All 156 applications were denied, including those of the seven troopers whose religious claims were acknowledged by the State Police as being sincere and truly held beliefs, according to the documents.


The lawsuit, filed by the union on March 3, lists the state, State Police, and Colonel Christopher Mason as defendants. The lawsuit claims State Police failed to show the undue hardship that would befall the department by accommodating the seven officers and allowing them to continue to work.

“I find the Seven SPAM members have met their preliminary burden on the merits of the religious discrimination claim, and the Defendants have not met their preliminary burden on the merits of the reasonable accommodation defense,” Judge Christine Roach wrote in her decision Wednesday. She declined to rule on the union’s assertion that there is a breach of contract.

The ruling applies only to the seven troopers in question, and the state may continue to enforce its vaccine mandate for other workers, Roach wrote.

Patrick McNamara, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, praised Roach’s ruling in a statement and criticized the Baker administration, for being “unwilling to negotiate or accommodate Troopers who have sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“We hope this ruling will encourage a change in his position on mandated vaccines and to bring all of our Troopers back to work,” McNamara said in the statement. “On behalf of the membership, I want to thank our legal team, specifically Attorney Leah Marie Barrault, for her efforts in this fight. These matters are not taken lightly and defending our Troopers’ rights is a fight we will continue to pursue.”


Governor Charlie Baker’s office referred questions to State Police, which declined to comment .

“We’re reviewing the decision,” David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday evening. “Beyond that, we generally don’t comment on pending litigation and won’t do so here.”

According to court documents, State Police determined that each of the seven troopers’ applications “support[ed] a finding that receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines would offend your sincerely held religious beliefs.” However, their applications were ultimately denied because the State Police department said it could not provide reasonable accommodations for them, court records show.

State Police said accommodations for the troopers would “cause undue hardship because there is no accommodation that would still allow the Department to protect the safety of your colleagues and the public without sustaining a significant adverse impact on operations and undermining the public’s trust in the State Police to keep them safe,” according to the documents.

The troopers were left with the choice of getting vaccinated or facing termination if they chose not to quit the force or retire, according to the documents.

Roach wrote that the case is not about the efficacy of vaccines but centers on the question of collective bargaining and whether the troopers had an opportunity to resolve their grievances. She cited a previous ruling in the case between the city of Boston and first responders’ unions over the city’s vaccine mandate, where a judge said the choice for workers between getting vaccinated or losing their job is a “Hobson’s choice, in other words, an apparently free choice with no real alternative.”


Roach wrote that the state “fails to recognize or to grapple with the issue of non-economic harm potentially raised by the so-called Hobson’s choice. ... The Seven Members have been found by the Defendants themselves to hold genuine religious beliefs, practices, or observances within the meaning of state and federal law which conflict with vaccination. This raises a significant interest, and risk of irreparable harm by virtue of the current course of events.”

The next court date for the case is April 28.

Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.