Ten New York City educators who were fired for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine will be reinstated with back pay, a judge ruled Wednesday.
From October 2021 to February 2023, all New York City Department of Education employees were mandated to take the vaccine, prompting thousands of educators to lose their jobs.
In February, some of those 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
, sought relief for 16 plaintiffs who lost their jobs due to the vaccine mandate.
The lawsuit was sponsored in part by Democratic presidential candidate 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. The city was also ordered to provide back pay, benefits, and seniority and to 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 lawsuit sought class-action certification for all department employees denied religious accommodations. Porzio denied the motion, claiming the complaint's class definition was "overbroad." The judge also denied relief to six plaintiffs who either did not complete the administrative process for requesting religious exemptions or whose exemptions were approved.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Sujata Gibson, told
, "We've been fighting for this since August of 2021 for these 10 people specifically. And we won and we won big for them. They were reinstated with back pay, with no break in service, and attorneys' fees. That's huge."
"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.
New York teacher Michael Kane told
Fox News Digital
that the ruling was "a huge precedent that is going to resonate across the state, across the 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 said he attempted to return to work following the ruling but was turned away and told that the Department of Education had the case "under review." He called it "par for the course" and speculated that the department likely plans to appeal.
The New York City Department of Education and the mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment from
Fox News Digital
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Candace Hathaway is a staff writer for Blaze News.