(The Hill) – A judge ordered New York City to reinstate 16 sanitation workers fired earlier this year for refusing to comply with a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees.

Judge Ralph Porzio, who sits on the New York Supreme Court in Staten Island, ruled on Tuesday that the city’s health commissioner could not change the workers’ terms of employment, also referencing President Biden saying “the pandemic is over” and Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) ending New York’s state of emergency.

Porzio ruled the city owes the workers back pay from when they were fired in February for failing to comply with the mandate, which was implemented last October. 

The city says it appealed the ruling and the mandate remains in effect.

“The vaccination mandate for City employees was not just about safety and public health; it was about compliance,” Porzio wrote, also ruling that the mandate violated the employees’ equal protection rights.

“If it was about safety and public health, unvaccinated workers would have been placed on leave the moment the order was issued,” he continued. “If it was about safety and public health, the Health Commissioner would have issued city-wide mandates for vaccination for all residents.”

The city health commissioner extended the vaccination mandate to private sector employees in December, but Mayor Eric Adams (D) previously announced that the requirement will end on Nov. 1.

“There is nothing in the record to support the rationality of keeping a vaccination mandate for public employees, while vacating the mandate for private sector employees or creating a carveout for certain professions, like athletes, artists and performers,” Porzio ruled. “This is clearly an arbitrary and capricious action because we are dealing with identical unvaccinated people being treated differently by the same administrative agency.”

When asked about the city’s decision to end the private employer mandate, Biden on Tuesday said “that’s a local judgment.”

“The city strongly disagrees with this ruling as the mandate is firmly grounded in law and is critical to New Yorkers’ public health,” said a New York City Law Department spokesperson. 

“We have already filed an appeal,” the spokesperson continued. “In the meantime, the mandate remains in place as this ruling pertains solely to the individual petitioners in this case.  We continue to review the court’s decision, which conflicts with numerous other rulings already upholding the mandate.”