United Airlines is among the major American companies to impose strict COVID-19 vaccine mandates on employees, which resulted in a federal lawsuit by a number of workers who sought an injunction.
The airline moved to dismiss that suit, but a federal judge this week issued a temporary restraining order barring the company from imposing the mandate or denying exemption requests until Oct. 26 while litigation continues.
“To avoid risking irreparable injury”
According to Breitbart, the ruling amounts to at least a temporary victory for employees opposed to the vaccine mandate by allowing time for their arguments to be fully considered. In the meantime, it prevents the airline from taking punitive action against those who have not complied.
A class-action lawsuit at the heart of the matter involves six United Airlines employees who alleged that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by retaliating against those seeking medical or religious exemptions.
Litigants described the ordeal of requesting an exemption, asserting that the airline’s only accommodation consisted of indefinite unpaid leave and the loss of all accrued benefits — essentially termination.
In a two-page ruling on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Pittman wrote: “The Court now concludes it is necessary to issue this Temporary Restraining Order to avoid risking irreparable injury and to maintain the status quo in this case pending the Court’s hearing and resolution of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction.”
The judge noted that employees were at risk of “being compelled to take a vaccination in violation of their religious beliefs or medical restrictions” or “being placed on indefinite unpaid leave by United.”
“Hard-working men and women”
Although Pittman made it clear that he was not “ruling on the merits” of the case, he reiterated that his court “seeks simply to avoid the risk of irreparable harm to the parties and to maintain the status quo” while the evidence is being presented.
To that end, he ordered that United Airlines be “temporarily restrained” until later this month from placing unvaccinated employees who had been granted an extension on indefinite unpaid leave. It also prohibited the company from denying requests for accommodations submitted after the arbitrarily set deadline of Aug. 31.
Mark Paoletta, an attorney for the employees behind the lawsuit, issued a statement describing the company’s “refusal to provide reasonable accommodations to its vaccine mandate” as a violation of “the federal civil rights protections of our clients, the hard-working men and women at United.”
Of course, the airline had a much different response to the judge’s ruling, taking the opportunity to defend its mandate while essentially dismissing the concerns of those opposed to it.
“Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United’s U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot,” a company spokesperson said. “For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments, and masking protocols.”