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United Airlines Covid-19 vaccine mandate halted by Texas federal judge after 6 workers demand exemption

United Airlines Covid-19 vaccine mandate halted by Texas federal judge after 6 workers demand exemption
United Airlines has been ordered to temporarily halt its Covid-19 vaccine mandate that would see unvaccinated employees put on unpaid leave after six employees filed a federal lawsuit arguing against their firm’s policy.

On Tuesday, US District Judge Mark Pittman responded to a class action brought by plaintiff and United Airlines captain David Sambrano, a North Texas resident. Sambrano was one of six employees who filed a federal lawsuit arguing that there was a pattern of discrimination at the Chicago based airline; they had “requested religious or medical accommodations from United’s mandate that its employees receive the Covid-19 vaccine.” 

Pittman ordered a temporary restraining order on United Airlines, preventing the company from enforcing its vaccine mandate on employees and placing workers who requested an exemption on unpaid leave. The restraining order expires on October 26. It gives the judge time to hear the relevant arguments of the employees and airline.

The employees, who filed their complaint on September 21, have argued that putting staff on unpaid leave is not reasonable accommodation, but rather an “adverse employment action” and therefore constitutes discrimination. 

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Sambrano himself applied for medical exemption, having recovered from Covid-19. He says his request was rejected by United’s online accommodation system.

The American airline announced on August 6 that it would be requiring all 67,000 of its US-based employees to get the jab. At the time of its announcement, the airline suggested around 90% of pilots and 80% of flight attendants were already inoculated. It said that the small number of employees who refused the vaccine would be placed on unpaid leave.

United Airlines claims that it “is making a good faith effort to manage workplace safety and provide reasonable accommodations in the face of unprecedented and rapidly evolving circumstances” and had filed a motion to dismiss the case.

On Monday, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from mandating Covid-19 vaccinations for employees or customers.

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