(The Center Square) – Washington State Fire Marshal Charles LeBlanc has joined the growing number of state employees joining a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee over his vaccine mandate.
About 600 state workers have joined the suit filed earlier this month in Walla Walla County Superior Court with about 90 original plaintiffs.
The list includes state troopers, corrections officers and firefighters.
Inslee issued the order in early August that all state employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face termination. That means employees must receive a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines by Oct. 4 to be considered fully vaccinated two weeks later.
A declaration filed as part of the lawsuit says LeBlanc received a letter from his doctor granting him a medical exemption from getting vaccinated, but the Washington State Patrol, under whose umbrella his department falls, will not grant him an accommodation because he is a public-facing employee.
LeBlanc joined the Washington State Patrol as a trooper in 1989 and retired in December of 2014 with the rank of captain. He became assistant state fire marshal in January of 2015 and was appointed fire marshal in May of 2017.
About 5,000 state employees have requested religious or medical exemptions from the vaccine mandate or about 8% of the 60,000 employees who fall under Inslee’s 24 cabinet departments.
The Washington Federation of State Employees also sued Inslee over the mandate, but that was settled before it went to court as 80% of the union’s 47,000 members ratified a contract change agreeing to the requirement. The deal gives members an additional personal day in 2022 and allows those who are not vaccinated and eligible to retire by the end of the year the ability to use paid and unpaid leave starting Oct. 18 until their retirement date without being fired.
Some 68% of state employees are now fully vaccinated, up from 48% earlier this month, according to the state Office of Financial Management. The state has also granted nearly 800 exemptions for employees who, unlike LeBlanc, work in roles that are not public-facing and have little contact with coworkers.
“As you saw from the data, there has been a strong uptick in the number of vaccinated employees in the last two weeks,” an Inslee spokesperson said in a statement. “Agencies and their HR departments have been working hard to communicate with their employees. We believe that the numbers will continue to go up, and know that as the deadline approaches more and more employees will make the decision to protect their health and the health of those around them.”