SRNS tells court its vaccine rules are private decision, bucking nationwide injunction

Dec. 21—The team that manages the Savannah River Site and its myriad nuclear security ventures on Monday told a court that its COVID-19 vaccine rules remain legitimate, despite a judge enjoining requirements for federal contractors earlier this month.

In a filing Monday, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions reinforced that it rolled out its vaccine mandate as a private entity days before President Joe Biden issued an executive order targeting groups that do work for the government.

"No federal government official has been named as a defendant in this lawsuit," attorneys for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions argued, according to documents filed with a Columbia-based federal court. "And, contrary to plaintiffs'" — employees' — "conspiracy theories about Savannah River Site email addresses and other mistaken beliefs, SRNS is not the federal government and is not 'masquerading' as a government actor."

Dozens of workers sued Savannah River Nuclear Solutions in October in an effort to neutralize its jab requirement.

U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs refused to block the policy Dec. 3, explaining that she was not persuaded to act in "extraordinary" fashion and intervene.

A federal judge in Georgia, though, this month suggested Biden overstepped with his demands and halted vaccine mandates for federal contractors.

"The court acknowledges the tragic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought throughout the nation and the globe," U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker wrote in a 28-page order. "However, even in times of crisis this court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities."

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions on Monday said that decision — and the executive order at issue — is not at the heart of the litigation it now finds itself embroiled in. The team's director of safeguards, security and emergency services, Lee Michael Schifer, made a similar argument in a statement submitted to the court.

"Based on my involvement with the SRNS COVID-19 pandemic response," Schifer said, "SRNS had already decided and planned to implement a vaccine mandate prior to any directive or involvement by the United States government or the" Department of Energy.