NY board tosses COVID-19 vax mandate for court workers

New York court workers must be rehired — and given back pay with interest — if they were fired because they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the state’s Public Employment Relations Board has ruled.

Under terms of the decision issued last month, the Unified Court System must immediately “cease and desist” from enforcing policies that require all non-judicial employees to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

In addition, anyone “who lost accrued leave, compensation or employment” will have to be made “whole,” with interest paid “at the maximum legal rate,” according to the Feb. 24 decision obtained by The Post.

The decision affects at least about 25 court officers who were fired, said Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, one of 10 unions that challenged the mandate.

A total of about 200 court workers were either fired or resigned or retired, Quirk said Sunday.

Quirk, who said he personally favors vaccination, called the PERB ruling a “landmark decision.”

An FDNY EMS worker gets vaccinated against COVID-19.
An FDNY EMS worker gets vaccinated against COVID-19 on Dec. 23, 2020.
Getty Images

“You can’t violate an individual’s right to choose. We live in America, not Russia,” he said.

Court officials “are reviewing the decision” and considering whether to appeal, UCS spokesman Lucian Chalfen said.

It’s unclear whether the decision will affect other state and Big Apple government employees who refused to get vaccinated, some of whom are suing New York City.

A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said the ruling won’t apply to city workers because it was “based on a different set of facts and laws” than those governing Big Apple employees.

Dennis Quirk, head of the New York State Court Officers Association, said in response to the ruling, “You can’t violate an individual’s right to choose.”

“There have been rulings on the city’s mandate that specifically find this type of relief is not necessary or warranted,”” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this month, Adams dropped the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal employees but said that the nearly 1,800 people who were fired for flouting it would have to reapply for their old jobs and wouldn’t receive back pay.

Meanwhile, an unvaccinated part-time judge in upstate Hornell, Jennifer Donlon, filed suit in December because she is barred from sitting on the bench but allowed to enter court as a lawyer.

In the 31-page PERB ruling, Administrative Law Judge Mariam Manichaikul said court officials “had a duty to negotiate” with labor unions over a September 2021 order requiring non-judicial employees to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

A public notice of the Public Employment Relations Board's ruling.
A public notice announces the Public Employment Relations Board’s ruling against the vaccine mandate for court workers.

“In adopting the Policies, UCS unilaterally implemented extensive procedures that implicate various terms and conditions of employment, including leave time, compensation, discipline, job security and medical privacy, all of which must be bargained,” she wrote.

Manichaikul ruled that “UCS has not met the criteria under which an employer is permitted to take unilateral action in an emergency situation” because it didn’t bargain with the unions beforehand and “showed no genuine desire to negotiate thereafter.”

Anti-mandate protest march.
Thousands of anti-mandate protesters march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 25, 2021.
Gabriella Bass

Although talks took place from August to December 2021, “UCS’ decision to unilaterally cease bargaining over the Policies when no agreements had been reached nor impasse declared, constitutes a violation” of the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act, she said.

As of Friday, the “community levels” of COVID-19 were low throughout New York City and the surrounding metro area, according to data posted online by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, nearly 82% of counties had low levels, with moderate or high levels in the rest, according to the CDC.

Mariam Manichaikul
Administrative Law Judge Mariam Manichaikul handed down the 31-page decision on Feb. 24.

The vaccine mandate was imposed by former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who resigned in July while reportedly facing an ethics probe stemming from her public feud with Quirk over it.

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct was reportedly investigating whether DiFiore improperly interfered with a disciplinary hearing against Quirk for posting her home addresses on Facebook to encourage protests there.

In a letter to the hearing officer, DiFiore said Quirk “exhibits no remorse” and urged the use of “every means” available “to address this incident and deter future misconduct,” according to Law360, which revealed the probe.

In December, The Post revealed that DiFiore still had court officers assigned to chauffeur and protect her using a pair of state-owned SUVs.

Janet DiFiore.
Former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore imposed the vaccine mandate.

At the time, Chalfen said the unprecedented arrangement was “determined by law enforcement personnel in our Department of Public Safety” and noted the “doxxing” that exposed her addresses.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s pick to replace DiFiore, appellate division Justice Hector LaSalle, was rejected last month by the state Senate, which voted 39-20 to make the centrist Democrat the first nominee ever turned down for a spot on the state’s highest court.