Miss a day, miss a lot. Subscribe to The Defender's Top News of the Day. It's free.
In a precedent-setting victory last month, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that 10 New York City school teachers fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds must be reinstated with back pay, benefits, seniority and attorney fees.
But the city immediately appealed the decision, so none of those teachers have returned to their jobs or received any payments.
“These workers absolutely did win reinstatement and back-pay,” Sujata Gibson, the teachers’ attorney told The Defender. “Unfortunately, in New York State courts, the government is entitled to an ‘automatic stay’ of any such relief pending resolution of the appeal.”
Gibson also said:
“CHD [Children’s Health Defense] is supporting us in our fight to defend these wins on appeal, and we are pursuing additional options to try to speed this process up and secure relief for additional plaintiffs. But the fight is not over yet.”
Nearly 7,000 New York City Department of Education (DOE) workers who sought religious accommodation from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in 2021 were denied based on standards that a federal court later ruled unconstitutional.
The suit also sought class-action certification for all DOE workers who were denied religious exemptions. Judge Ralph Porzio denied the motion to grant class status, a ruling the plaintiffs are appealing.
Regardless, Gibson said the decision was “a precedent-setting victory, and a watershed moment in the teachers’ fight.”
Thousands of workers were subjected to the very same processes the judge ruled were “arbitrary and capricious,” and they could sue individually based on that precedent, if it is upheld by the appeals court, Gibson said.
Michael Kane, one of the plaintiffs and a member of Teachers For Choice, told The Defender that after filing the appeal, the city has six months to take the next step in the case — so even though they won with the last ruling, the fired teachers will have to continue to fight for their rights and the relief they are entitled to.
The struggle continues, despite confusion on social media
Last week, a Fox News story from Oct. 25, 2022, “New York Supreme Court reinstates all employees fired for being unvaccinated, orders backpay” was picked up and celebrated on social media by influential figures and their followers. It circulated on X, formerly Twitter, and Instagram, where hundreds of thousands of social media users “liked” the posts, Kane said.
The story itself was vague — it did not cite the actual case that had been ruled on and it gave the impression that all New York City workers fired for refusing vaccination would be returning to work with back pay.
In fact, the story was posted after the state’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs George Garvey and 15 other New York City Department of Sanitation employees who were fired by the city for non-compliance with the mandate.
That historic ruling was applicable not only to the 16 workers who sued but also to all public employees in New York City, including the police and fire department.
But in that case, the city also appealed the ruling and the appeals process is ongoing.
New York City workers, with substantial public support, continue to fight, Kane said.
“This isn’t just for us, it’s for our kids and our grandkids. This is laying the groundwork. It took over 50 years for Plessy v. Ferguson to be overturned by Brown v. Board of Education. Civil rights battles are long, protracted struggles, and that’s what we’re in. It’s not fun, but that’s what we’re in.”