Fired New York City sanitation workers prevail in vaccine mandate litigation

For the second time in a month, a court has dealt a blow to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers.

Updated: October 26, 2022 - 11:32pm

For the second time in a month, a court has dealt a blow to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers.

On Tuesday, a Staten Island Superior Court judge ruled in favor of 16 city sanitation workers who were fired for not getting vaccinated after the city issued a mandate a year ago for public sector employees.

In his ruling, Judge Ralph Porzio said the city’s health commissioner does not have the power to establish new working conditions, nor can that person block an employee from reporting for work.

“We have learned through the course of the pandemic that the vaccine against COVID-19 is not absolute. Breakthrough cases occur, even for those who have been vaccinated and boosted,” the judge stated. “President Joe Biden has said that the pandemic is over. The State of New York ended the COVID-19 state of emergency over a month ago.”

Porzio’s ruling means those 16 workers will be reinstated and receive back pay.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver praised Porzio for his ruling. Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit organization that’s not involved in the sanitation workers’ case but has filed similar lawsuits for military personnel and health care workers affected by vaccine mandates.

“The court recognizes that the COVID shot does not prevent contracting or transmitting the virus and that the mandates are not about health and safety,” Staver said. “This fact has been obvious from nearly the beginning.”

The city is appealing the decision.

The New York City Law Department said the public sector mandate will remain in place since Porzio’s ruling impacts only the 16 plaintiffs in the case.

Tuesday’s ruling comes a month after a Manhattan judge ruled against the city in a lawsuit filed by the Police Benevolent Association, a union representing New York City police officers. The city, too, has appealed that case, but the mandate has been stayed for officers during the appeal.

And that ruling for NYPD officers was on the heels of Mayor Eric Adams’ decision to lift the vaccine mandate for the city’s private-sector workers. The city will officially lift that vaccine requirement next Tuesday, but the city’s also urging businesses to establish vaccination policies.

When New York City announced the end of the private-sector mandate on Sept. 20, Adams told reporters ending the mandate for city workers was “not on the radar,” citing a phased approach.

“You make the decisions based on how to keep our city safe, how to keep our employees operating,” he said. “By taking the vaccine, we were able to keep the city open. So the determination now from our medical team is to remove the private sector mandates, remove the sports mandates for children, and that is where we are. And if there’s something’s going to change, we’re going to announce it.”