A U.S. district judge dismissed nine state security guards’ request Thursday for a temporary restraining order against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that goes into effect Monday for state health workers who directly work with patients.
Nine downstate members of the State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, the state Health Department and the state Public Health and Planning Council on Thursday with the request for the restraining order.
Judge Brenda Sannes of the U.S. District Court in the state’s Northern District dismissed the restraining order early Thursday evening. The decision was not immediately available.
The complainants will pursue their lawsuit and argue the Health Department’s Aug. 18 order mandating personnel employed with a general hospital or nursing home be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, or face termination, violates their 14th Amendment rights and discriminates against certain state workers.
“The mandate coerces plaintiffs as employees or affiliates of hospitals into accepting unwanted medical care in violation of their constitutional right to equal protection, privacy, bodily autonomy, personal liberty and due process,” according to the 21-page suit.
The department’s Public Health and Health Planning Council voted to approve the controversial mandate Aug. 26.
“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” Haley Viccaro, Hochul’s senior adviser for communications, said in a statement Thursday. “Nothing further to say at this time.”
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision also declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Union counsel is waiting for oral arguments to be scheduled. None were scheduled as of Thursday night, but union counsel expect an update in the coming days.
“We make a substantial argument in our complaint and the application for the restraining order that our clients are being treated differently than teachers,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Dennis Vacco, partner with Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP.
Vacco served as the state attorney general under Gov. George Pataki from 1995-1998.
New York teachers can test negative for the coronavirus each week if they refused a COVID vaccine, but do not face termination.
“While the state might argue that teachers are not in health care facilities where people are sick, our position is, in relation to COVID, teachers are in an environment where, inherently, there are fewer people that are vaccinated,” Vacco said of school-age children.
The vaccine has not been approved for children under age 12.
The guards live and work downstate, with eight from New York City and Long Island and the ninth from Orange County.
The union has about 20,000 active members, with roughly 2,000 who work as law enforcement officers outside state prison facilities.
About 200 of that group are subject to the vaccinate or termination mandate that goes into effect Monday, and work as guards in applicable state facilities such as SUNY hospitals or state Office of Mental Health psychiatric wards.
A judge recently blocked the vaccine mandate from taking effect for workers who have a religious exemption or are seeking one. The state plans to defend the mandate in court.
Hochul has said previously the state intentionally did not include a religious exemption in the mandate and has noted religious leaders worldwide have encouraged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Check back for more details on this developing story.
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.