A judge has found that New York City overstepped its bounds by firing police officers who defied its COVID vaccine mandate, ordering that they be given their jobs back.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Lyle Frank on Friday ruled in favor of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which cheered the decision as a victory for officers' rights. The ruling follows other legal setbacks for government attempts to require public workers to get inoculated against COVID.
"This decision confirms what we have said from the start: the vaccine mandate was an improper infringement on our members' right to make personal medical decisions in consultation with their own health care professionals," PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "We will continue to fight to protect those rights."
The association, which represents over 50,000 active and retired officers in the New York Police Department (NYPD), brought the lawsuit in October 2021, calling the mandate a "draconian imposition" and asking that it be put on hold.
Bill de Blasio, then mayor of the country's most populous city, imposed the mandate on the entire municipal workforce to get the jab by November 1 or be placed on unpaid leave. At the time, 68 percent of the NYPD force was vaccinated, lower than the 76 percent rate of adults in the city.
While the city argued that it had the authority to mandate vaccinations, Frank wrote in his four-page ruling that "its enforcement measure is limited to monetary fines" and that any conditions of employment needed to be worked out with the union representing police.
"To say that this Court should read into the statute that enforcement of a vaccine mandate is enforceable by exclusion from the workplace, suspension, leave without pay and ultimate termination would be a gross overstatement of the (city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene) Commissioner's powers," Frank wrote.
Police forces across the country have been particularly resistant to COVID vaccine mandates enacted by local jurisdictions in an effort to bring the pandemic to heel. Nationally, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's requirement.
The office of New York City Mayor Eric Adams in February fired 1,430 city workers who failed to comply with the city's vaccine mandate. The same month, Adams began relaxing mask mandates and proof of vaccination as the pandemic showed signs of waning in the city that once saw one of the fastest spreads of the virus.
Adams on Tuesday announced that the city dropped its mandate that students be vaccinated in order to participate in school sports and extracurricular activities, reported PIX11. The city was also abandoning its mandate for private employers but keeping the requirement for municipal workers.
"Many people think COVID is in our rearview mirror," Adams said, according to the station. "It will remain in the rearview mirror if we do the right things."
Newsweek has reached out to the New York departments of Health and Law for comment.