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State Supreme Court Judge Ralph J. Porzio ruled Wednesday — the day before classes started Thursday in New York City — that 10 employees fired by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine must be reinstated and provided back pay, holding that denials of religious accommodation to the plaintiffs were unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.

The case, DiCapua v. City of New York, sponsored by Children’s Health Defense, is related to Kane v. de Blasio, a federal lawsuit currently pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. “This victory is a watershed moment in the teachers’ two-year fight for relief,” said Sujata Gibson, lead attorney in the two cases. “The Court’s decision not only grants relief to these ten teachers, but it also sets important precedent for all other teachers denied religious accommodation.”

The Court rejected the City’s claim of “undue hardship” as unsupported in the record and irrational, particularly since “being vaccinated does not prevent an individual from contracting or transmitting COVID-19”.

Though the Court granted relief for the majority of plaintiffs, it denied petitioners who had not initially applied under the DOE’s original religious accommodation policy, which the Second Circuit struck down in 2021 as unconstitutional. “The Court agreed that employees were not required to submit applications through the prior unlawful process but still declined to award relief to those plaintiffs on the grounds that there were contested issues of fact as to whether these plaintiffs submitted applications under the new process,” said Gibson. “This is an error, and we will be making a motion to reargue on their behalf.”

The court also denied the motion for class certification, filed on April 7 by the plaintiffs, stating that the proposed class was “overbroad.”

“The judge’s ruling yesterday, while not everything we wanted, is a precedent-setting victory,” said Gibson. “The court’s ruling in the class certification still leaves the door open to future relief for thousands of teachers negatively affected by the vaccine requirement. We intend to file a motion of reconsideration on a narrower basis. Rather than waste public resources clogging the courts with so many individual lawsuits, legal action that will remedy these discriminatory policies for all impacted workers only makes sense.”

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all New York City DOE workers was in effect from Oct. 1, 2021 through Feb. 10, 2023, during which time thousands of teachers and other personnel were terminated for not complying with the requirement.

“Today’s ruling is bittersweet,” said New York teacher Michael Kane, who lost his job after refusing to get a COVID shot. “While it’s an important step in the right direction, justice for only ten of us doesn’t even scratch the surface of the injustice suffered by NYC workers as a result of this illegal mandate.”


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