US District Court Grants TRO Barring New York From Excluding Religious Exemptions For COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Arent Fox
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Arent Fox

On September 14, 2021, District Court Judge David N. Hurd of the Northern District of New York granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the New York State Department of Health (DOH) from enforcing the vaccine mandate to the extent that it requires that any employers deny religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination or that they revoke any exemptions employers already granted before the mandate was issued.

The TRO was granted as a result of a lawsuit filed on September 13, 2021. The plaintiffs are composed of several medical professionals employed in the State of New York who assert that their sincerely held religious beliefs require them to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. They allege that the vaccine mandate, in its current form, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Supremacy Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. The named defendants are New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard A. Zucker, and New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Next Steps and Takeaway

  • The TRO only prevents the DOH from enforcing the vaccine mandate to the extent that it bars consideration or granting of religious exemption requests. Accordingly, healthcare employers must adhere to all remaining requirements of the vaccine mandate.
  • A TRO is only a temporary measure to prevent anticipated harm as the parties litigate the constitutionality of the vaccine mandate.
  • The lawsuit, Dr. A, et al., v. Kathy Hochul, et al., 21-CV-1009 (DNH) (ML), is currently pending in the Northern District of New York. We will continue to monitor this matter closely and accordingly, we advise our clients to adhere to current federal, state, and city laws regarding religious accommodations.

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