While many courts have so far rejected vaccine mandate challenges, yesterday’s decision out of New York reverses that trend. Judge David Hurd of the Northern District of New York in Dr. A, et al. v. Hochul, 1:21-cv-01009-DNH-ML, issued a preliminaryinjunction yesterday, enjoining the NY Department of Health from enforcing the challenged emergency regulation § 2.61(c) which required most health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 without accommodating employees’ religious beliefs.
The named plaintiffs, proceeding pseudonymously, challenged the mandate on religious discrimination grounds. As stated in the Complaint, the Plaintiffs “hold the sincere religious belief that they cannot consent to be inoculated . . . with vaccines that were tested, developed or produced with fetal cell[ ] line[s] derived from procured abortions.” (internal citations omitted). The court concluded that Section 2.61 was pre-empted by Title VII’s, prohibitions of employment discrimination on the basis of religion. The holding, in relevant part, reads as follows:
“Defendants, their officers, agents, employees, attorneys and successors in office, and all other persons in active concert or participation with them, are preliminarily ENJOINED from enforcing, threatening to enforce, attempting to enforce, or otherwise requiring compliance with § 2.61 [that required most healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 within thirty days] such that: … Section 2.61 is suspended in operation to the extent that the Department of Health is barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination or that they revoke any exemptions employers already granted before § 2.61 issued[.]”
NY Governor Hochul has signaled that the state intends to appeal this decision and that she “stands behind [the healthcare workers’ vaccination] mandate.” However, ultimately, the state may end up allowing for religious exemptions under this emergency order, while otherwise remaining aggressive in pursuing vaccination mandates through a variety of carrot-and-stick approaches.