Federal court backs United Airlines vaccine mandate, denies notion to temporarily suspend unpaid leave policy

A group of United Airlines employees sued the company over the policy that puts unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave even if they have an approved medical or religious exemption to the vaccine mandate.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman denied their motion for a preliminary injunction. Pittman expressed sympathy in his ruling as he wrote, “The Court appreciates the difficulty conscientious employees face when asserting their religious rights, but that difficulty does not demonstrate irreparable harm.”

The decision will affect around 2,000 United employees, and United has said it will work to put those workers in roles where they do not have close contact with customers. 

United has emphasized the success of its mandate, saying that other than those for whom exemptions were granted, more than 99 percent of employees had been vaccinated.

Following the ruling, the airline released a statement saying, “We’re pleased with the court’s decision. We know that the best way to keep everyone as safe as we can is for everyone to get vaccinated, as nearly all United employees have chosen to do.” United has said it will review COVID-19 case and transmission rates every 30 days to assess whether or not it is safe for unvaccinated employees to return to their original jobs. 

Judge Pittman did relay his displeasure with how United has treated employees who decline vaccination, writing that the mandate “reflects an apathy, if not antipathy, for many of its employees’ concerns and dearth of toleration for those expressing diversity of thought.”

He ultimately decided, though “it is not for the Court to decide if United’s vaccine mandate is bad policy. Rather, it is the Court’s role to determine if Plaintiffs carried their burden to obtain a preliminary injunction.” The United mandate is not the only one facing challenges in court; the Biden administration’s new measure requiring over 80 million private-sector workers to be vaccinated or be tested weekly was temporarily blocked this weekend.




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