One Big Thing in Michigan COVID-19 News:
On August 21, 2020, U.S. Federal Court Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District Court for Michigan issued an order denying a motion for a preliminary injunction over the State of Michigan’s testing requirements for agricultural and food processing workers.
This was a preliminary order for injunctive relief. So the lawsuit (Castillo v Whitmer, Case No. 1:20-cv-751) will theoretically continue. But as explained below, the Judge made several significant rulings that will make it difficult for the plaintiffs to ultimately be successful. It it is also another major “judicial win” for Governor Whitmer and her administration against those second-guessing Michigan’s response to COVID-19.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued an Emergency Order that applied to agricultural employers and owners and operators of migrant housing camps. The Emergency Order mandates COVID-19 testing of these employees. If workers test positive for the coronavirus, or if workers refuse to be tested, they cannot work.
In the press release from the MDHHS, it welcomed the ruling:
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services required testing for COVID-19 among certain workers as part of a carefully considered plan to protect a segment of Michigan’s workforce that is at an exceptionally high risk of COVID-19. The department welcomes today’s ruling by a federal court rejecting an attempt to undermine this critical program to save lives.
Why it Matters:
The Plaintiffs argued that the Emergency Order mandates COVID-19 testing of essentially “Latino agricultural workers” because the State requires testing only at places where the workers and residents are overwhelmingly Latino. The plaintiffs urged the Court to conclude the Emergency Order used “race,” which required a high and exacting standard (”strict scrutiny”) to justify it. The plaintiffs also argued that it did not, and thus discriminated on the basis of race.
The Court easily rejected this argument because the Order and testing requirements apply regardless of one’s race. Thus, the Court will apply the much lower standard called “rational basis” to analyze the contested government action going forward. Under that standard, the Emergency Order must only serve a legitimate public interest. With over 177,000 Americans dead from the virus and counting, it’s hard to see how the plaintiffs will show that slowing the spread of COVID-19 does not meet that requirement.
The order is available here.
Use this link to contact Michigan attorney Jason Shinn if you have questions about this article or complying with Michigan or federal employment laws. Since 2001, Mr. Shinn has represented companies and individuals in employment discrimination claims under federal and Michigan employment laws.