A Boston-based United Airlines flight attendant has filed a lawsuit seeking back pay and damages after she was sidelined without pay during the pandemic for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. Her lawsuit claims United offered no meaningful religious accommodation for her sincerely-held beliefs concerning the vaccine.
Lawsuit Claims United Airlines Improperly Sidelined Flight Attendant For Refusing COVID-19 Vaccine
Sheyenne Myers has been a United Airlines flight attendant since 2018. She lives in Alabama, but is Boston-based. During the pandemic, United Airlines required that all employees be vaccinated. Medical and religious exemptions were offered, but those granted exemptions were placed on unpaid leave. United has since lifted the mandate for existing employees, but all new employees must be vaccinated.
Myers believed that the vaccine would disqualify her from a future paradise in Heaven. Her lawsuit explains:
“Ms. Myers sincerely believes that her body is not to be altered in any way other than through means by which God created or through scientifically proven, safe, and effective manmade and necessary medical intervention. To consume or knowingly inject anything else into her body would constitute a sin and prevent her ability from one day, going to Heaven and sharing that Place with God.”
United did grant her religious exemption, but she asserts that such accommodation was anything but accommodating:
“On or about September 9, 2021, United purportedly ‘granted’ Ms. Myers’ request for a religious accommodation request; however, United did no such thing. The claim that United ‘granted’ her request is nothing more than illusory.
“Specifically, to ‘reasonably accommodate’ Ms. Myers sincerely held religious beliefs, United placed her on leave without pay for an indefinite term that ultimately left her without income for more than six (6) months.”
The lawsuit claims that United could have easily granted accommodation and such an act would not have constituted an undue hardship (the legal test for whether an employer must grant accommodation):
“At all times relevant, Ms. Myers complied with all COVID-19 mitigation protocols United implemented, including inter alia wearing masks, socially distancing, and testing for COVID-19 on a weekly basis (collectively, ‘mitigation protocols’), and Ms. Myers remained amenable to continuing to adhere to such protocols in lieu of receiving any of the available COVID-19 vaccines; none of which she could receive due to her sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Myers is claiming lost compensation and benefits, compensatory damages, and attorney fees.
Although an Alabama resident, Myers is suing in Boston because she is domiciled there and because her lawsuit invokes the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA), which offers broad protection for religious conscience. You can read the Complaint here.
I’m against vaccine mandates and always was, though United certainly has the right to protect its workforce and customers as it sees fit within the boundaries of law, including requiring all new employees to be vaccinated. I think it is largely true that offering “accommodation” to those who declined the vaccine on medical or religious grounds was not accommodation at all.
But even as some vaccine skeptics appear more credible today than in 2021, I’m still struck by the amount of misinformation spewed by vaccine skeptics. For example, the lawsuit claims:
“Specifically, it is not subject to reasonable dispute that vaccination against COVID- 19 fails to prevent the contraction or transmission of COVID-19; thus, an individual who is “fully vaccinated” is just as likely––if not more likely––to contract COVID-19 and transmit the virus than someone who is unvaccinated. And whereas an unvaccinated individual has already contracted COVID-19 and developed natural immunity and antibodies to the virus, a vaccinated person is up to twenty-seven times (27x) more likely to contract coronavirus and transmit it thereafter.”
That’s really a stretch and likely based off a debunked report. See here for context.
And as a person of faith, specifically a Christian, it breaks my heart to see such foolish theology as is espoused in this lawsuit, namely that those who are vaccinated won’t “go to Heaven.” I find absolutely no scriptural support for an idea that a new Heaven and new Earth will be filled only with non-vaccinated folks. Quite the contrary, human flourishing is propelled by science, which is a manifest tribute to a Creator who programmed human beings with logic and reason. Vaccines are a great gift and testament to humanity’s command to subdue the creation.
That said, the legal test is not holding a reasonable faith-based position but a sincerely-held one…
A United Airlines flight attendant has sued her employer, alleging she was wrongfully sidelined during the pandemic for her refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Expect to see many more cases like this in the weeks and months ahead.