A New York State judge ruled that NYC sanitation workers who were fired for failing to comply with the city’s COVID vaccine mandate must be rehired, in a blistering ruling that targeted Mayor Adams’ lifting of the mandate for private-sector workers.
Judge Ralph Porzio blasted the city order requiring municipal employees to get the jab as “arbitrary and capricious” in a Monday ruling in state Supreme Court in Staten Island.
The lawsuit was brought by 16 sanitation workers who were fired in February after refusing the October 2021 mandate imposed by the de Blasio administration. Porzio ruled they could return to work — and get back pay — starting Tuesday at 6 a.m.
“We shouldn’t be penalizing the people who showed up to work, at great risk to themselves and their families, while we were locked down,” he wrote.
He slammed the Adams administration for lifting the vaccine mandate for private-sector workers and student athletes last month while keeping it in place for public employees.
“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.”
The double standard violates the fire municipal workers’ equal-protection rights, among other flaws, he wrote.
Mayor Adams and former Health Commissioner David Chokshi also overstepped when they fired some employees, but not others, the judge wrote.
“It is clear the health commissioner has the authority to issue public health mandates,” Porzio stated. “However, the health commissioner cannot create a new condition of employment for city employees. The health commissioner cannot prohibit an employee from reporting to work. The health commissioner cannot terminate employees. The mayor cannot exempt certain employees from these orders.”
Porzio disputed whether the order was about public health at all.
“If it was about safety and public health, unvaccinated workers would have been placed on leave the moment the order was issued. If it was about safety and public health, the health commissioner would have issued citywide mandates for vaccination for all residents,” he wrote.
“If it was about safety and public health, no one would be exempt,” Porzio added. “It is time for the City of New York to do what is right and just.”
A mayoral spokesman referred a request for comment to the city Law Department, which said the city filed an appeal and insisted the mandate is still in effect for all city workers but the employees listed 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,” the flack said. “We continue to review the court’s decision, which conflicts with numerous other rulings already upholding the mandate.”
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