The New York Supreme Court has sided with New York City’s sanitation workers fired for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. On Monday, the court ordered reinstatement and back pay, saying the workers’ rights were violated by the sweeping vaccination mandate.

City officials said they have already filed an appeal, so the mandate is intact and the reinstatement on hold for now.

The lawsuit was filed by 16 sanitation workers who lost their jobs when they decided not to be vaccinated, despite an order from Health Commissioner David Chokshi. He gave all city employees nine days to prove they’d had at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 or be terminated.

New York Supreme Court Justice Ralph J. Porzio called enforcement of the mandate “arbitrary and capricious,” noting that while the mandates were issued because of a legitimate public health concern, “The City employees were treated entirely differently from private sector employees, and both City employees and private sector employees were treated entirely differently from athletes, artists and performers.”

Porzio went on to write that “all unvaccinated people living or working in the City of New York are similarly situated. Granting exemptions for certain classes and selectively lifting of vaccination orders, while maintaining others, is simply the definition of disparate treatment.”

While he said the health commissioner has the authority to create public health mandates — an authority that isn’t challenged — that official cannot “create a new condition of employment for City employees.” He can’t hire or fire them and the mayor cannot exempt some but not others, the judge ruled.

Porzio ordered that “terminated petitioners” be reinstated to their full employment status with backpay to the date of their termination.

Per CNN, “In his order, Judge Porzio also found the health commissioners’ order on December 13, 2021, as well as the mayor’s Executive Order 62, to be ‘arbitrary and capricious.’”

A bit of history

The lawsuit brought by sanitation workers said that on Oct. 20, 2021, Chokshi issued a vaccine mandate order. It said that all city employees would have to show they’d had at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 within nine days or they would lose their jobs.

It was several weeks before a similar mandate was issued for private employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Even later, exemptions were made for athletes, artists and entertainers. The different time frames and the exemptions for certain classes of worker played large in Porzio’s ruling.

New York City lifts COVID-19 vaccine mandate for athletes and performers

Fox News reported that an estimated 1,400 municipal employees did lose their jobs after failing to be vaccinated. It said many of those fired were police officers and firefighters.

According to CNN, “Chad LaVeglia, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the ruling, ‘a remarkable victory for all the hard-working men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving the public. It is also a great victory for individual rights and equality for all New Yorkers.’”

In his ruling, Porzio specifically addressed the plight of the 16 petitioners.

How other fired city employees will fare is not yet clear. Staten Island Live reported earlier this month that a firefighter who lost his job for not getting vaccinated was ordered reinstated by the same Supreme Court justice.

The article said Porzio overruled the determination based on a religious exemption and also ordered back pay and legal fees in that case.

Staten Island Live quoted a spokesman who said the city’s fire department was considering its options as far as appealing that ruling. “Unvaccinated firefighters can threaten the health and safety of first responders and the public they closely interact with, including the most vulnerable.”