In April, 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, Isaacs, Devasia, Castro & Wien LLP, as General Counsel to the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), sued the City of New York, seeking a Judicial order that would prevent Correction Officers from being forced to work triple tours of duty.
The lawsuit also sought a judicial order compelling Correction Officers to test negative for COVID-19, prior to returning back to work if they had previously tested positive or self- quarantined. At the time, well over 1,000 Correction Officers had tested positive for COVID-19 and many more were out sick.
As a result, the New York City Department of Correction ordered a number of Correction Officers to work triple tours of duty, often forcing them to miss meals and jeopardize their physical health and welfare.
COBA’s initial request for a temporary restraining order was denied and the case was adjourned to allow the court to hear further arguments. Upon further review by a different Judge, Judge Pamela Jackman-Brown, COBA’s request was granted and a preliminary injunction is now in place, preventing the City of New York from ordering Correction Officers to work triple tours of duty, pending further proceedings and a possible trial. Commenting on the significance of Judge Jackman-Brown’s decision, COBA’s Attorney, Steven Isaacs, said, “The granting of a preliminary injunction against the City of New York is an extraordinary measure that is rarely achieved. In this action, we maintained that the Department of Correction violated the fundamental rights of Correction Officers to bodily integrity protection, which is firmly established under our State Constitution.” In addition to Judge Blackman-Brown’s decision, Mayor Bill de Blaisio, in a rare move, explicitly agreed that the practice of triple tours was a “horrible, dumb mistake” and would not be allowed moving forward. Concerning the issue of negative testing, the Judge denied COBA’s request for an order requiring negative testing, maintaining that the science is very unclear as to the best testing measures and that the City is following CDC guidelines.
“There is no higher priority for us than ensuring our members work under the safest working conditions possible,” said COBA President Benny Boscio. “We are pleased that the Judge in this matter agreed with our arguments over triple tours and we will continue to hold the Department of Correction accountable whenever it violates our employment rights. This injunction will maintain even greater significance if a second wave of COVID-19 hits our jails again, forcing our members to self-quarantine.”
In another important legal victory for COBA, COBA’s Attorneys, Koehler and Isaacs, were successful in temporarily preventing the Office of Trials and Administrative Hearings (OATH) from holding virtual disciplinary hearings for Correction Officers, which would have posed serious implications for the rights of Correction Officers litigating their disciplinary charges in a potentially public forum. The union will pursue this litigation in a trial expected to be held in November.