NEW YORK (PIX11) — Thousands of New York City teachers who were denied exemptions from the city’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement filed a lawsuit on Monday against the government that dismissed them.
The new legal filing was made in state court, where a similar case filed by some other city workers was successful.
Michael Kane, one of 14 educators who are plaintiffs in the new case, laid out what the lawsuit seeks.
“What we’re looking for is our jobs back,” he said, as well as “back pay for the time that was lost, at the same retirement credits, and possibly pain and suffering. This has been really, really tough.”
Kane leads the group Teachers For Choice, which advocates for educators who’ve chosen to not get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The organization is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is based in part on one filed by 16 city sanitation workers. In their case, they argued that they deserved their old jobs back, with back pay and retirement benefits. That case won and is now under appeal by the city.
Civil rights attorney Sujata Gibson is the lawyer for the teachers. She said that their new case is a straightforward one.
“What we’re seeing is widespread religious accommodation discrimination,” she said in an interview.
The city’s rules, she said, “also violate the New York State Constitution, the New York state human rights law and the New York City human rights law.”
Meanwhile, some parents at one of the city’s more than 1,850 schools expressed support for the teachers who are trying to get their jobs back.
“[For] everyone, freedom of choice,” said Patrick Van Rosendaal, a parent at P.S./I.S. 78 in Long Island City. “Now,” he continued, “I think we’re good, it’s good as it is.”
Luciana Camhaji, another parent at the school, said, “I think that’s great that [the teachers are] being given a chance to come back. It’s a shame they had to leave in the first place.”
The new lawsuit filed on behalf of the teachers is in state court in Staten Island. It’s in addition to a federal lawsuit that the teachers filed more than a year ago. It’s still pending.
For its part, the city responded to the legal action through its law department.
“Numerous courts have upheld the city’s vaccine mandate and its process for granting reasonable accommodations to employees,” a New York City Law Department spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ll review this new case once we are served,” the statement concluded.
While the new case and the federal case get adjudicated, said Kane, the 14-year veteran special education teacher says that more is at stake than he and his fellow dismissed teachers recovering paychecks. More important, he said, is what students are losing while teachers aren’t allowed back under full terms of reinstatement.
He said that, in addition to being a licensed special education teacher, “I also ran a Dreamers Alliance club for over four years that helped immigrant youth, specifically undocumented youth,” Kane said. “That doesn’t exist anymore because there isn’t a teacher like myself that’s passionate about it.”