Bloomberg — New York City’s program requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms and clubs can continue, a federal judge ruled, finding no racial bias in the mandate.Tuesday’s ruling followed a lawsuit filed last month by a group of city residents, including business owners, seeking to block Mayor Bill de Blasio’s program, Key to NYC. They claim it illegally discriminates on the basis of race because Black and Hispanic New Yorkers have vaccination rates below the city average and are therefore disproportionately barred from indoor commercial spaces.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan rejected that argument.
“Any African American or Hispanic individual has a right to access a ‘covered premise,’ if that individual has documents showing they are vaccinated,” Cogan wrote in denying a preliminary injunction to halt the program. “The same is true for any other individual in New York City.”
He also rejected arguments that the program infringes on freedom of religion, freedom of association and the right to bodily integrity, and ruled that requiring businesses to check vaccine status doesn’t constitute “involuntary servitude” in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, among other arguments made in the lawsuit.
Ronald Berutti, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately return a voicemail seeking comment on the ruling, which came after a hearing Friday. A spokesman for the city’s Law Department had no immediate comment.
About 72% of New Yorkers have had at least one vaccine dose, compared with 48% of Black residents, while the total among Hispanics jumped to 63% after government outreach to the community, city health department data show. Approximately 54% of White New Yorkers have had at least one shot. The highest rates are for Native Americans and Alaska Natives at 93%, followed by Asians, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders at 83%.
The lawsuit is one of many challenges to vaccine mandates for businesses, employees and patrons. The federal appeals court in Manhattan is set on Thursday to hear vaccine mandate challenges by health care workers statewide and by teachers who argue that a vaccine requirement for New York City schools must include a religious exemption.
Disputes have arisen across the country, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday extending a ban on mandatory Covid vaccination in the state from municipalities and schools to private employers.
Key to NYC requires people 12 and older to show proof of at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine for indoor dining, fitness activities, movies, concerts, sporting events and museums. The program also requires staff at those venues to be vaccinated. More than 5.6 million people have obtained an Excelsior Pass, the state’s voluntary app for proving vaccination status, which can be flashed from a phone as proof.
The case is Dixon v. de Blasio, 21-cv-05090, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).