On April 21, 2022, New York Judge Judy H. Kim denied a request for a preliminary injunction filed by various unions on behalf of approximately 1,300 unvaccinated New York City (NY City) employees who were terminated from their positions on February 11, 2022. The Plaintiffs in this case seek declaratory relief from the court, claiming their termination was in violation of their due process rights as well as a permanent injunction to require the various NY City departments to reinstate their employment. Immediately before the court was the Plaintiffs’ request for a temporary preliminary injunction seeking the same relief.
The case, N.Y.C. Mun. Lab. Comm. v. City of New York, 2022 NY Misc Lexis 1472 (Sup. Ct. Apr. 21, 2022), is the latest example of a challenge to an employer’s vaccination mandate. To no surprise, the Court denied the Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction and in a tip of her hand for future proceedings in this case, the Judge shared her thoughts on the merits.
A preliminary injunction in New York, and most other jurisdictions, requires the moving party to show 1) a clear and substantial likelihood of success on the merits; 2) immediate and irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; and 3) a balancing of the equities favors the movant’s position. Judge Kim found that the Plaintiffs failed to show any of the elements weighed in their favor, but focused particularly on their lack of substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the case.
The Plaintiffs, as public employees, claimed an established property right in continued employment was violated by NY City without procedural due process (i.e. notice and opportunity to be heard). The due process claim flows from various civil service laws in New York State and City Code, as well as the various employees’ collective bargaining agreement rights related to disciplinary action and termination. The Defendants argued that the disciplinary procedures set forth in the applicable provisions of the various collective bargaining agreements related to job performance, misconduct, or competency. On the other hand, the vaccine requirement was implemented as a minimum job qualification; the employees were effectively terminated because they could no longer show they were qualified for their positions. This argument was enough to persuade the judge, who opined “every court that has considered this question has reached the same conclusion.”
Judge Kim also refused to accept the Plaintiffs’ arguments that they were at risk of immediate and irreparable harm as an adequate remedy existed in money damages. Further, Judge Kim rejected the Plaintiffs’ balance of equities argument, stating public interest aimed at the prevention of the spread of disease outweighed any claimed harm.
This case presents an interesting study as it involves public employees, but also employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement. It, like the various other court cases involving private sector employees, seems to agree that employer vaccine mandates are lawful, defensible, and here to stay. While this ruling was solely to resolve the motion for a preliminary injunction, it is one to keep an eye on for future proceedings.