The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed, without costs, a ruling by Supreme Court which denied the Plaintiff's petition to annul a determination of the City of New York Reasonable Accommodation Appeals Panel [Citywide Panel] denying  Plaintiff's request for a reasonable accommodation from the New York City Board of Education's [DOE] COVID-19 vaccine mandate,  Plaintiff's motion for limited discovery, and  dismissed the proceeding brought pursuant to CPLR Article 78.
The court said the Citywide Panel's finding — that the DOE demonstrated that granting petitioner an accommodation of masking, testing, and social distancing, or alternatively teaching remotely, when the DOE was returning to in-person instruction, would impose an undue hardship — was not arbitrary and capricious or made in violation of lawful procedure.
Opining that it "need not limit [its] review to the language in the Citywide Panel's decision, as the Panel noted that it had 'carefully reviewed (the DOE's) determination' as well as 'all of the documentation submitted to the agency,' and that it had based its decision on that review", the Appellate Division found "The DOE's Position Statement explained in detail why granting the accommodation would create an undue hardship for the DOE, in conformity with the factors listed in the New York City Human Rights Law (City HRL) including 'identifiable cost of the accommodation' due to, among other things, 'retaining or hiring employees or transferring employees ... in relation to the size and operating cost of the employer,' and '(t)he number of individuals who will need the particular accommodation'," citing the "Administrative Code of City of NY §8-107(3)(b).
Noting Matter of Gray v Adduci, 73 NY2d 741, and other decisions, the Appellate Division explained the fact that the Position Statement was unsigned and undated, or amounted to hearsay, was of no moment, as "(h)earsay evidence can be the basis for an administrative determination".
Citing the decision in Matter of Marsteller, 217 AD3d 543, the Appellate Division said "(t)he affirmation of Eric J. Eichenholtz, Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel for Employment Policy and Litigation, who served as a final reviewer for Citywide Panel determinations," was appropriately considered by Supreme Court, as "there was no administrative hearing" and the affirmation "explain(ed) the information that was before the agency," including it noting that the DOE Position Statement was submitted to the Citywide Panel and was relied upon for the final appeal determination.
In addition, the Appellate Division noted DOE employees were informed how to apply for religious accommodations and appeal denials and Plaintiff "availed h(er)self of this process, (DOE) explained why h(er) application did not qualify for an accommodation [and the] parties further engaged in the administrative appeals process," and DOE "submitted evidence" that it received over 3,300 religious accommodation requests that needed to be "resolve(d) under a constrained timeline during an evolving public health emergency".
As Plaintiff "[had] not established that, under these circumstances, the City HRL required a more robust or individualized dialogue than the process (s)he received", the Appellate Division opined that Supreme Court properly denied Plaintiff's motion seeking leave for limited discovery in this special proceeding, as she failed to show "ample need" or "unusual circumstances".
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