Fordham Faces Potential Litigation Over Booster Mandate


A group of parents and faculty protested the vaccine mandate. (Courtesy of Nicoleta Papavasilakis/The Fordham Ram)

On Oct. 20, the Mermigis Law Group sent a letter to President Tania Tetlow stating that a group of Fordham University community members had retained the law group to fight the COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccination mandate. The group claimed they were looking into legal options to overturn the mandate.

James G. Mermigis and Kevin M. Barry signed the letter to Tetlow. Mermigis is a senior partner and the owner of Mermigis Law Group.

Mermingis told the Bronx Times that the mandate violates students’ rights, especially since it came in the middle of the semester.

“They announce this after everyone has began their semester, after everyone has paid their tuition. That’s a breach of an implied contract,” said Mermigis to the Bronx Times.

Mermigis did not respond to the Ram’s interview request.

Mermigis is working with a group of Fordham parents, students, faculty and staff called “Fordham Together.” The group has advocated for the mandate’s repeal since its announcement on Sept. 26. They drafted a letter to Tetlow on Oct. 7, outlining the issues they have with the mandate. Their letter states why they believe students should not be mandated to receive a booster shot and that Fordham is “one of the only universities requiring it.” Fordham is one of over 50 universities requiring the bivalent booster.

According to Mermigis’ letter, Fordham Together never received a response from the university.

“By implementing its vaccine mandate,” said Mermigis and Barry in their letter, “Fordham University is deliberately taking away each student’s statutorily guaranteed right to decide whether to accept or refuse administration of the COVID-19 vaccines. The university is doing so openly, without any regard for the personal and autonomous right of each student to choose whether they want to receive an unapproved and unlicensed medical product. Fordham is effectively forcing each student to choose between facing expulsion from Fordham or receiving an experimental medical treatment to which they do not consent. As explained above, these vaccines and boosters have not been proven to prevent infection or transmission. Therefore, requiring that students receive these vaccines to prevent infection is unscientific.”

The letter asked the university to review the evidence included and revisit the choice to mandate the booster to “avoid litigation.”
“We are preparing to explore all legal options available to protect Fordham students and employees from discrimination or adverse actions based on their decisions regarding whether or not to inject the most recent booster into their bodies,” wrote Mermigis and Barry in the letter.

Mermigis’ letter demanded a response from the university by Oct. 24. The Ram did not receive information from the university, Fordham Together nor the Mermigis Law Group about whether or not the university responded.

In a statement to the Ram, Fordham Together confirmed their involvement with the law firm and that they are considering pursuing legal action against the university if the mandate is not revoked.

Fordham Together said, “Fordham Together is a rapidly-growing group of parents, students and staff of Fordham University. We are proud to be part of the Fordham Ramily but feel that our concerns are not being heard despite numerous letters, calls and emails to the school. Members of Fordham Together are working with The Mermigis Law Group and wholeheartedly agree with his letter to the president of Fordham University. Together we are considering litigation if the university does not revoke the vaccination mandate. Our next step will depend on the university’s response.”

Fordham Together sent out a press release regarding their involvement with the Mermigis Law Group. The release cited Mermigis’ past successes in cases involving COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other related COVID-19 rules or regulations. The New Yorker described Mermigis as the “anti-shut down lawyer,” because he represented many businesses during 2020 that were forced to shut down because of the pandemic.

The Ram reached out to the university for comment about the potential threat of litigation. Bob Howe, associate vice president for communications & special adviser to the president, said in response:

“The university is not reconsidering the vaccine/bivalent booster mandate. The Jesuit teaching that runs through everything Fordham does is being people for others. The vaccine isn’t just about the needs of individuals, but about the community. Being fully vaccinated and boosted helps protect students, faculty and staff — some of whom are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of age or their individual medical histories.”

Howe defended the university’s choice to continue to mandate the bivalent booster shot.

“As an institution, we aren’t in a position to choose among the many COVID-19 studies — no small number of which are in conflict with each other. That’s why we rely on the guidance from the CDC: It has both access to the scientific literature and the expertise to interpret the data and make recommendations based upon it. The CDC bases its guidelines on the work of many researchers, virologists and epidemiologists — a depth of experience and expertise beyond what can be expected from individual researchers or medical practitioners,” said Howe. “Multiple news outlets are reporting an increase in COVID-19 infections in the U.K. and Europe, including the new BQ.1.1 subvariant. In the past, infection spikes in the U.K. and Europe have presaged those in the U.S. We strongly suspect other institutions will be revisiting their vaccination policies this fall, if they have not done so already.”

The bivalent booster mandate has sparked outrage in the Fordham community. Faculty members created and circulated a petition asking for the mandate to be revoked.

Parents, faculty, students and staff gathered to protest the mandate on Oct. 14. The mandate has also received backlash in various student forums and meetings over the past month.