Skip to main content

Staten Island Judge Issues Order Reinstating Unvaccinated Sanitation Workers in Ruling that Blames Mayor Adams for Exempting Athletes from Mandate

Ralph Porzio appears on a local legal discussion program in Staten Island

Ralph Porzio before he was a state supreme court justice

A judge in New York City’s conservative Staten Island borough on Monday issued an order the reinstated a group of fired sanitation workers who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the city filed an appeal.

The original vaccine compliance order was issued by city officials and require all city employees to show proof of at least one dose of a vaccination against COVID-19 by the end of business on Oct. 29, 2021. A private employee mandate was issued in December 2021.

In February 2022, the plaintiffs in the case were finally terminated for failure to comply with those vaccination requirements.

Then, in late March of this year, Mayor Eric Adams issued an order that worked in the fired workers’ favor by exempting athletes, performers, and other artists from the private mandate.

The sanitation workers argued the mayor’s blanket exemptions – which allowed Brooklyn Nets center Kyrie Irving to retake his place on the floor of the Barclays Center after Adams insisted he would not bend the rules for Irving – made the public employee mandate “arbitrary and capricious or unconstitutional.”

Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio agreed – citing the mayor’s exemption order as a factor that: (1) extended the statute of limitations which “opened the door” for the workers’ lawsuit; and (2) which won the case for the workers on the merits.

“The Mayor, in issuing [the exemption order], made a different decision for similarly situated people based on identical facts,” the 13-page opinion reads. “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. 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 ruling goes on to find that the vaccine mandates are improper, broadly, because they are fashioned as indefinite rules – rather than temporary exercises of power during a state of emergency – and unlawful conditions of employment that were enacted beyond the powers granted to the New York City Health Commissioner and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Such purported mandates, Porzio writes, are in violation of the New York City Charter, New York State public health laws, the sanitation workers’ collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, the judge says, the vaccine mandates “usurp” power from the state legislature.

Using an equal protection analysis, Porzio also finds the caste system developed by Adams violated the New York State Constitution.

“Though City employees are often held to a higher standard that employees in the private sector, there is no rational reason for vaccination mandates to distinguish City workers, athletes, performers, and other private sector employees,” the opinion reads. “Either there is a mandate for all, or there is a mandate for none.”

In conclusion, the judge dings both Adams and President Joe Biden for taking contradictory stances on the pandemic:

It is clear that the Health Commissioner has the authority to issue public health mandates. No one is refuting that authority. 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 prohibit an employee from reporting to work. The Health Commissioner cannot terminate employees. The Mayor cannot exempt certain employees from these orders. Executive Order No. 62 renders all of these vaccine mandates arbitrary and capricious.

Being vaccinated does not prevent an individual from contracting or transmitting Covid-19. As of the day of this Decision, CDC guidelines regarding quarantine and isolation are the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. The Petitioners should not have been terminated for choosing not to protect themselves. We have learned through the course of the pandemic that the vaccine against Covid-19 is not absolute. Breakthrough cases occur, even for those who have been vaccinated and boosted. President Joseph Biden has said that the pandemic is over.

The order issues reinstates the workers who sued and orders the city to provide them backpay for the work they have missed. The order also purports to find the mandates unlawful in general, but the city’s appeal will forestall the court’s rulings from taking effect until the litigation is concluded.

“The city strongly disagrees with this ruling as the mandate is firmly grounded in law and is critical to New Yorkers’ public health,” the city’s law department told Manhattan-based ABC flagship station WABC. “We have already filed an appeal. In the meantime, the mandate remains in place as this ruling pertains solely to the individual petitioners in this case. We continue to review the court’s decision, which conflicts with numerous other rulings already upholding the mandate.”

[image via screengrab/New York Law Chat]

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: