UTICA, N.Y. (AP - Modified) — A federal judge ruled that New York must continue to allow health care workers to seek exemptions from a statewide vaccine mandate on religious grounds as a lawsuit challenging the requirement proceeds.
“They cannot fire or retaliate or suspend or take any action against an employee,” retired State Supreme Court Judge Penny Wolfgang said. “This forbids employers or anybody in the healthcare field from enforcing mandatory vaccinations.”
Judge David Hurd in Utica had issued a temporary restraining order a month ago after 17 doctors, nurses and other health professionals claimed in a lawsuit that their rights would be violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed the exemptions. A few days later during a COVID-19 briefing, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the temporary restraining order did not impact the September 27 deadline for health care workers to be vaccinated.
Hurd’s ruling Tuesday means New York will continue to be barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions.
“There’s many cases, there’s many arguments and it’s in a state of flux which makes it very difficult,” Wolfgang said.
But this is just the begining, Wolfgang says this case will continue to climb through the court system.
“There are a lot of ramifications and lot of mediation is going on and I think the cases will be determined really quickly," Wolfgang said.
Governor Hochul released the following statement Tuesday:
My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe.
Catholic Health, Kaleida Health and ECMC say those who requested religious exemptions will continue to work as of now. In a statement Kaleida Health says if religious exemptions are discontinued, employees would need to immediately get vaccinated to work. ECMC said they have 129 employees who have requested religious exemption.