Educators Who Lost Jobs Over COVID Vaccine Mandate Win Lawsuit

New York State Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio has ruled in favor of a group of teachers who were fired for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The judge deemed the decision to fire these educators and deny them religious exemptions as “unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious.”

The ten public school employees, including school principals and classroom teachers, are now entitled to their jobs back, along with back pay for salaries, benefits, pensions, and seniority.

Porzio’s 22-page opinion partly stated, “This Court sees no rational basis for not allowing unvaccinated classroom teachers in amongst an admitted population of primarily unvaccinated students.”

“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,” he added.

This decision comes after months of legal battles between the educators and the city, which implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school workers starting on Oct. 1, 2021. The mandate finally ended on Feb. 10, but thousands of education workers lost their jobs due to this requirement.

The city had argued that “granting reasonable accommodation to classroom teachers” could put the primarily unvaccinated student population at risk. However, the judge questioned this argument, pointing to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ decision to scrap the vaccine mandate for athletes and entertainers as evidence that the mandate for public school teachers was arbitrary and unreasonable.

The decision is likely to be welcomed by many conservatives who have opposed vaccine mandates, as it highlights the importance of individual choice and religious exemptions in the face of government-imposed requirements. The plaintiff’s lead attorney, Sujata Gibson, called the ruling a “watershed moment in the teachers’ two-year fight for relief.”

“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,” he said.

While the ruling only applies directly to the ten educators who filed the lawsuit, seven other petitioners who sought exemptions and job reinstatement were denied their requests.

One of the groups that were denied relief was “Teachers for Choice,” which advocates against forced vaccination. 

Porzio explained in his ruling, “Although the petitioners’ overall position is that the citywide panel did not provide relief to the vast majority of initial DOE applicants, and specifically that these petitioners did seek that review, the record before this court is insufficient to make any determination as to those claims.”

While the ruling did not completely go their way, Gibson maintained it is “a precedent-setting victory,” adding, “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.”