On Wednesday, a judge ruled that ten New York City educators who had been terminated for not complying with the Department of Education’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate from October 2021 to February 2023 would be reinstated and granted back pay.
In February, 16 educators filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education after they were denied religious exemptions from the mandate. The lawsuit, DiCapua v. City of New York, was sponsored in part by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s nonprofit, Children’s Health Defense. On Wednesday, Richmond County Judge Ralph J. Porzio ordered the city to reinstate 10 of the plaintiffs and provide them with back pay, benefits, seniority and cover attorney fees.
Porzio called the city’s vaccine mandate “arbitrary and capricious.”
“This Court sees no rational basis for not allowing unvaccinated classroom teachers in amongst an admitted population of primarily unvaccinated students,” Porzio stated. “As such, the decision to summarily deny the classroom teachers amongst the Panel Petitioners based on an undue hardship, without any further evidence of individualized analysis, is arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. As such, each classroom teacher amongst the Panel Petitioners is entitled to a religious exemption from the Vaccine Mandate.”
The court denied the motion to certify a class-action lawsuit for all department employees who had been denied religious accommodations.
In his ruling, Judge Porzio determined that the complaint’s proposed class definition was overly broad. Additionally, the judge declined to grant relief to six plaintiffs who either failed to complete the process of requesting religious exemptions or whose exemptions were approved.
Sujata Gibson, counsel for the plaintiffs, spoke with The Defender about this outcome stating, “We have been advocating on behalf of these ten individuals since August 2021 and achieved a successful result. They were reinstated with back pay and no break in service as well as awarded attorneys’ fees.”
“The judge’s ruling yesterday, while not everything we wanted, is a precedent-setting victory and a watershed moment in the teachers’ fight,” Gibson continued. “The court’s ruling on 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,” Gibson added.
Michael Kane, a teacher in New York, informed Fox News Digital that the ruling was “a significant precedent that will likely have ramifications throughout both the state and country.”
“Today’s ruling is bittersweet,” Kane stated. “While it’s an important step in the right direction, justice for only 10 of us doesn’t even scratch the surface of the injustice suffered by NYC workers as a result of this illegal mandate.”
Kane stated that he attempted to return to work after the ruling, however, he was denied and informed that the Department of Education had the matter under review. He noted that this is a common procedure and speculated that an appeal may be forthcoming.