Court reinstates nurse who was terminated for refusing COVID-19 vaccine

A judge reinstated a Buffalo, N.Y.-based Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center nurse who was fired for refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, The Buffalo News reported Aug. 28.

The judge overturned an arbitrator's January decision, which said Wendy Cooper was fired with just cause. The judge referred to the decision as "irrational, violative of public policy and contrary to the interests of justice."

"Ms. Cooper is an unfortunate victim in the wake of excesses exhibited by governors, administrators, legislatures, and yes, even the judiciary," state Supreme Court Justice Emilio Colaiacovo wrote in his decision. "All too frequently did critical thinking and the exercise of personal liberties expire at the altar of false righteousness, fear and authority."

He directed Roswell Park to negotiate with Ms. Cooper over her retroactive pay and benefits. 

The center declined the news outlet's request for comment but confirmed it will appeal the decision. It reached out to the union healthcare employees who were suspended for not getting vaccinated and invited them back without requiring vaccination, as well as encouraged fired employees to apply for open positions, according to court papers.

About 3.5 percent of the state's healthcare workforce lost their jobs, resigned, retired or were furloughed due to being unvaccinated by April 2022, according to the report. Ms. Cooper was suspended and fired in late 2021. Roswell Park said it had no other choice than to do so given the state health department's vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

The arbitration was over whether Roswell Park had just cause to fire Ms. Cooper.

Roswell Park's attorney, Michael Hickey, told Judge Colaiacovo that at the time, the center had just cause to fire Ms. Cooper. If it had allowed her to work unvaccinated, the cancer center would have been in violation of a state regulation.

The judge ruled that the arbitrator did not take into account a new state ruling that came out at the time of arbitration, which should have influenced the decision.


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