A judge with the New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that New York City Mayor Eric Adams' October 2021 mandate requiring all municipal workers to receive a Covid-19 vaccine was unlawful and ordered the city to rehire and provide back pay to all sanitation workers who lost their jobs for violating the mandate.
The ruling comes as part of a case filed earlier this year by 16 former sanitation workers who were fired in February for refusing to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porizo in the ruling said the vaccine mandate "violates the separation of powers doctrine" within New York's state constitution, and that it violated the workers' "substantive and procedural due process rights," and lacked "the power and authority to permanently exclude [them] from their workplace."
Porizo noted that Adams lifted the vaccine mandate for some private employees, including athletes and entertainers, earlier this year, and that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) had recently ended New York's state of emergency.
"There is nothing in the record to support the rationality of keeping a vaccination mandate for public employees while vacating the mandate for private sector employees or creating a carveout for certain professions, like artists, athletes or performers," Porizo said. "This is clearly an arbitrary and capricious action because we are dealing with identical unvaccinated people being treated differently by the same administrative agency."
Porizo said the vaccine mandate "was not just about safety and public health; it was about compliance."
"If it was about safety and public health, unvaccinated workers would have been placed on leave the moment the order was issued," Porizo said. "If it was about safety and public health, the Health Commissioner would have issued city-wide mandates for vaccination for all residents."
In the ruling, Porizo said the former sanitation workers "all claim, and provided laboratory documentation, that they have natural immunity to Covid-19 from prior infection(s)."
Porizo added that the pandemic has shown protection from Covid-19 vaccines is "not absolute" and breakthrough infections occur "even for those who have been vaccinated and boosted."
However, Porizo noted the ruling "is not a commentary on the efficacy of vaccination, but about how we are treating our first responders, the ones who worked day-to-day through the height of the pandemic."
In a statement, a spokesperson for New York City's law department said it "strongly disagrees with this ruling as the mandate is firmly grounded in law and is critical to New Yorkers' public health."
"We have already filed an appeal," the spokesperson added. "In the meantime, the mandate remains in place as this ruling pertains solely to the individual petitioners in this case. We continue to review the court's decision, which conflicts with numerous other rulings already upholding the mandate."
Chad LaVeglia, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said the ruling is "a remarkable victory for all the hard-working men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving the public. It is also a great victory for individual rights and equality for all New Yorkers."
LaVeglia added that "every city employee who has been terminated because of the mandate could bring civil actions against the city" which would "cost the city at least hundreds of millions."
City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli said that even though the ruling only applies to 16 people, "Pandora's box has been opened."
"The pendulum has swung toward our direction and at this point, I think the city is appealing it simply because the back pay and the lawsuits that will follow will be more expensive than the appeal," he said. "It'll go to the Court of Appeals, and they have not been pro-mandate." (Associated Press, 10/25; Schonfeld, The Hill, 10/25; Vitagliano, CNN, 10/25; Hogan/Golding, New York Post, 10/25)
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