Weeks after Minnesota health care workers filed a lawsuit to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, most have obtained a religious exemption from the rule. Now they likely will have to decide whether to continue the legal fight.

In a three-hour court hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Brasel rejected the health care workers' request for an injunction to stop their employers from enforcing the vaccine mandate. But the judge's decision doesn't preclude the lawsuit from continuing.

Gregory Erickson, one of the attorneys representing the health care workers, said the judge's decision to deny the injunction was made in part because most of his clients have either been granted an exemption from the vaccine mandate or their requests are pending. Only about three requests have been denied, he said. "The court found there wasn't enough of an injury to merit an injunction — yet," Erickson said.

The suit originally included 188 unnamed plaintiffs from hospitals and clinics across Minnesota. Since then, about 100 others have decided to join the lawsuit, but the complaint has not yet been amended, Erickson said.

Of the original group, 70% have received an exemption from the vaccine mandate, primarily for religious reasons, he said. A few are exempted for medical reasons.

"The purpose of the suit was to save jobs," Erickson said. "For the most part, that purpose has been accomplished for most of my clients."

A remaining concern is whether that exemption will be revoked later, he said. "We'll assess whether the suit goes forward," Erickson said. "[My] clients will need to decide whether to spend money fighting an event that may never happen."

The suit identified nearly two dozen health care institutions, including Mayo Clinic, Fairview Health Services, University of Minnesota Physicians and Regions Hospital, as defendants as well as federal health officials. Hospital officials were not immediately available to comment on this week's court hearing.

The lawsuit comes weeks after President Joe Biden announced new federal mandates for vaccinations, which include health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid and those who work at businesses with 100 or more employees.

Minnesota hospital officials largely welcomed Biden's move, calling it key to curbing preventable deaths and illnesses filling up their facilities.

The lawsuit claims that employer mandates are forcing workers, including religious objectors and people who have recovered from the virus, to be vaccinated so health care institutions can boost their vaccination numbers and get more money in federal subsidies.

"Plaintiffs' employers are placing a substantial burden on their employees not to practice their religious-based objection to the COVID-19 vaccination or live under the threat of having their religious exemption withdrawn at any time," the lawsuit states.

Staff writer Andy Mannix contributed to this report.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788