On Tuesday, a state court ruled that New York City sanitation workers who were fired because they didn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine should be brought back and given back pay.
Ralph Porzio, sitting on Staten Island, ruled that the city’s health commissioner went beyond his authority and violated the employees’ rights to due process and equal protection when he stopped them from working.
Porzio used the fact that Mayor Eric Adams decided earlier this year that some private workers, especially athletes and entertainers, did not have to get vaccinated as proof that the requirement for public employees was arbitrary and unjustified.
“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,” Porzio wrote. “This is clearly and arbitrary and capricious action because we are dealing with identical unvaccinated people being treated differently by the same administrative agency.”
The city’s legal department said Tuesday that it was appealing Porzio’s decision.
Porzio didn’t agree with the city’s argument that the workers’ lawsuit should be thrown out because it was filed too late. Instead, he decided that the clock started ticking in June, when the Department of Sanitation sent letters to the workers offering them their jobs back if they got vaccinated, not in March, when Adams exempted private sector employees.
The city’s legal department said in an emailed statement that it “strongly disagrees with this judgment since the requirement is solidly rooted in the law and is crucial to the public health of New Yorkers.”
Adams, a Democrat, said last month that he would stop requiring private-sector workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine on November 1, but he would keep it in place for public-sector workers.
The city enacted the public-sector vaccination requirement in October 2021 and expanded it to the private sector in December, just as the COVID-19 Omicron variant wave started to kill hundreds of lives in the city. As a safety measure, it is still the largest area in the United States that requires vaccinations.