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NYC must rehire, pay back wages to unvaccinated workers: NY Supreme Court Judge

COVID-19 vaccine. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando/TNS)
October 25, 2022

New York State Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio ruled on Monday that New York City must rehire a group of city employees who were fired for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Porzio also ordered the city to provide backpay for the time the city employees went without work and wages.

Porzio ruled in favor of a group of city employees who challenged the vaccine mandate that then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed on all city employees in 2021. De Blasio’s mandate was formalized through a Commissioner’s Order issued by city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.

In his ruling, Porzio wrote “it is clear that the Health Commissioner has the authority to issue public health mandates” and “no one is refuting that authority” but said the Health Commissioner “cannot create a new condition of employment” for City’s existing employees and “cannot prohibit an employee from reporting to work.”

“The Health Commissioner cannot terminate employees,” Porzio added.

Porzio also wrote, “being vaccinated does not prevent an individual from contracting or transmitting Covid-19.”

“As of the day of this Decision, CDC guidelines regarding quarantine and isolation are the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals,” the judge added. “The Petitioners should not have been terminated for choosing not to protect themselves. We have learned through the course of the pandemic that the vaccine against Covid-19 is not absolute.”

Porzio also addressed modifications current mayor Eric Adams made to de Blasio’s order, exempting some people from the city’s mandates, and Adams plans to end similar vaccine mandates for private sector employers.

“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 athletes, artists and performers,” Porzio wrote. “This is clearly an arbitrary and capricious action because we are dealing with identical unvaccinated people being treated differently by the same administrative agency.”

On Tuesday, city health officials voted unanimously to repeal the vaccine mandates for private employers. At the same time, the city is appealing the judge’s Monday ruling and hoping to keep the mandate in place for all other city employees not named in the lawsuit.

“The city strongly disagrees with this ruling as the mandate is firmly grounded in law and is critical to New Yorkers’ public health,” a spokesperson for the city told ABC7. “We have already filed an appeal. 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.”