A New York state judge on Wednesday ruled that 10 employees fired by the NYC Department of Education for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine must be reinstated with back pay.
In his ruling, State Supreme Court Judge Ralph J. Porzio found that the city acted illegally when it denied religious exemptions to certain city teachers - who went to Children's Health Defense to sponsor a lawsuit against the department following failed attempts to claim religious accommodation for the mandate.
"This Court sees no rational basis for not allowing unvaccinated classroom teachers in amongst an admitted population of primarily unvaccinated students," wrote Porzio, adding "As such, the decision to summarily deny the classroom teachers amongst the Panel Petitioners based on an undue hardship, without any further evidence of individualized analysis, is arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. As such, each classroom teacher amongst the Panel Petitioners is entitled to a religious exemption from the Vaccine Mandate."
Porzio also slammed the city's assertion that allowing teachers religious exemptions would place undue hardship on the city, calling the claim "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable."
In the order, he granted relief to 10 plaintiffs who completed the administrative steps to request an exemption. He denied relief to six plaintiffs because they did not complete the administrative process.
As part of his ruling, Judge Porzio made reference to Mayor Eric Adams’s lifting of a vaccine mandate for some private employees in 2022, notably celebrities and athletes. He said the decision was evidence that the mandate for public workers was done on an arbitrary basis.
New York City imposed a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all Department of Education workers that started on Oct. 1, 2021, and lasted until Feb. 10, 2023. Reports indicated that thousands of workers, teachers, and other staffers lost their jobs for not adhering to the mandate. -Epoch Times
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Sujata Gibson, said that they have been "fighting for this since August of 2021 for these 10 people specifically. And we won and we won big for them," adding "They were reinstated with back pay, with no break in service, and attorneys’ fees. That’s huge."
"The judge’s ruling yesterday, while not everything we wanted, is a precedent-setting victory, and a watershed moment in the teachers’ fight," she added, noting that thousands of other unvaccinated workers were similarly denied a religious exemption, and can now sue the city based on this new precedent.
Gibson added that another class action lawsuit may be in the cards.
"The court’s ruling on class certification still leaves the door open to future relief for thousands of teachers negatively affected by the vaccine requirement," she said, adding "We intend to file a motion of reconsideration on a narrower basis."
It comes months after a lawyer for another group of fired, unvaccinated New York City teachers claimed that Mayor Eric Adams’s administration blacklisted employees who refused to get the vaccine with a special code.
“Loosely speaking, it is like a scarlet letter,” lawyer John Bursch told the New York Post earlier this year. “The employee’s personnel file shows a [generic] problem code that could just as easily be [for] committing a crime as declining to take a vaccine for religious reasons. In some instances, when plaintiffs tried to obtain employment elsewhere, they were told that they were red-flagged because of the problem code,” he said. -Epoch Times
NYC Mayor Eric Adams rescinded the vaccine mandate for workers earlier this year, allowing some 1,700 fired workers to reapply for their jobs (without back pay or retroactive full benefits).