A divided three-judge panel declined to block United Airlines’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate after six employees petitioned the court for an emergency injunction.
U.S. Appeals Court Hands United Airlines Another Vaccine Mandate Victory
United Airlines’ vaccine mandate has gone into effect. Customer-facing employees who have been granted a religious or medical exemption have been placed on unpaid leave on an open-ended basis until the pandemic “recedes.”
In October, the petitioners sought emergency relief in a U.S. District Court in Texas. Judge Mark Pittman provided it, temporarily blocking United’s vaccine mandate while he considered the merits of the case. But in November, he ruled on the merits for United Airlines, upholding its vaccine mandate.
While Pittman was not charitable to United Airlines in his decision, he nevertheless ruled that such requirements were within the purview of an employer and that no employees were forced to take a vaccine against their conscience.
The petitioners appealed, arguing that United violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to provide reasonable religious accommodations and was guilty of employment discrimination and retaliation.
Borrowing much of the same logic used by Judge Pittman, a three-judge panel for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans voted 2-1 to reject the request for emergency injunction. The panel will still consider the merits of the case in a subsequent decision.
Judge James Ho, who dissented, argued that monetary compensation, if the plaintiffs later prevailed, was not enough:
“Vaccine mandates like the one United is attempting to impose here present a crisis of conscience for many people of faith. To hypothesize that the earthly reward of monetary damages could compensate for these profound challenges of faith is to misunderstand the entire nature of religious conviction at its most foundational level. And that is so whether the mandate comes from D.C. or the C-Suite.”
Should the United employees lose, they can ask the entire Fifth Circuit to reconsider the ruling and after that, appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which has the choice whether to take the case or let the circuit decision stand.
United Airlines has gained another legal victory, with a conservative circuit court refusing to block its vaccine mandate. While the court will now consider the merits of the case, United’s vaccine mandate lives to see another day.