New York City officials sent the information of teachers who refused COVID-19 vaccination to federal law enforcement agencies, while the employees had their personnel files flagged with “problem codes” typically reserved for staffers who commit serious misconduct violations.
John J. Bursch, the attorney representing New York City workers in a lawsuit, told a federal court that teachers who were terminated for failure to comply with the “unconstitutional policies” not only had the flag on their personnel records, but had their fingerprints “sent with that flag to the FBI and the New York Criminal Justice Services,” which now “impacts their ongoing ability to get employment at other places.”
In an affidavit submitted to the court, Betsy Combier, president and lead paralegal of Advocatz, a paralegal consulting business, explained that the problem codes the Department of Education (DOE) uses in personnel files are there to indicate those employees should not be hired due to misconduct.
“Employees can be flagged for everything from receiving an unsatisfactory or ineffective rating to engaging in egregious criminal acts,” she told the court. She also noted that the problem codes are what trigger the reporting to federal criminal justice bureaus.
“I know of many former DOE employees who have problem codes in their personnel files because they declined to be vaccinated in violation of the DOE’s mandate and were not granted a religious or medical exemption,” she continued. “The DOE places a problem code on the employee’s personnel file immediately upon getting information that the employee did not submit proof of vaccination. As soon as the employee gets the vaccination and submits proof, the code is removed from his or her file.”
On Feb. 6, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the termination of the city’s vaccine mandate nearly 15 months after former mayor Bill de Blasio implemented the policy, which Bursch says was an attempt to “moot” the issue before the case would be argued in court two days later.
The lawsuit includes as plaintiffs New York City firefighters, teachers, police officers, sanitation workers, and other public employees, many of whom have lost their livelihoods, careers and homes due to the city’s mandate, a legal filing states.
According to Bursch, city officials discriminated against religious workers by exempting athletes, entertainers, and strippers from the vaccine mandate while firing workers who raised religious objections.
“Some of the clients, because they couldn’t get employment anywhere within the city, were forced to get jobs out of state,” Bursch told Timcast in an interview. “There are many that went to New Jersey or even out of the country; they had to move out of the United States entirely.”
We had one client move to Israel. Others lost their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages. Still others had catastrophic losses because they lose their medical insurance and they had family members who desperately needed medical care, and they had to pay for that out-of-pocket, or forego it altogether.
There has been all kinds of emotional harm, as you can imagine, inflicted on these employees because of the way they have been treated.
It’s really sad that in the 21st century, the government would continue to treat people of faith like social pariahs.
Ingrid Romero, who is being represented by Bursch in the lawsuit, is a deeply religious woman who taught at the same school in Queens for more than 18 years, the same elementary school she attended as a child. Despite her long history and connection to the school, she was terminated for declining the COVID-19 vaccine after her religious exemption was repeatedly denied.
“I requested a religious exemption. I was denied. I appealed it. I was denied again,” Romero told Timcast.
In 2018, after her husband battled cancer, Romero recommitted her life to God. Having learned of the use of aborted fetal cells in vaccines, she felt it would be a violation of her faith to have those cells injected into her body through vaccination. The citywide panel adjudicating exemption applications denied her application for exemption anyway, citing the fact that she had received a flu shot years before reaffirming her faith.
Romero was terminated in October 2021. She says that losing her job had a “humongous” impact on her and her family.
“I take care of my family back in Ecuador. My husband takes care of his family back in Ecuador,” she explained. “And therefore, in order to be able to continue doing this, my husband has had to work double or triple [shifts].”
She added that sometimes she doesn’t even get to see her husband because of the hours he works.
Bursch said the citywide panel turned down every single religious exemption that was based on the use of aborted fetal cell lines in the creation or production of the vaccines.
Since losing her job, Romero has picked up work as a substitute teacher in New Jersey at a school located a short five-minute walk from her home. But, she says if she has the opportunity to return to the school that terminated her once the case is over, she would gladly go back.
“I love my school. I love my community. I love my children,” she said.
As the case continues its slow wind through the U.S. legal system, Romero remains hopeful for a positive outcome.
“You know, I’m a true believer. I have never lost hope. I believe that so many things are coming up now,” she said. “We keep praying. And I truly believe that with our lawyers and with everything that’s going on right now. God’s timing is perfect.”