A federal judge in Texas has blocked United Airlines from imposing its vaccine mandate on employees seeking medical or religious exemptions while it considers arguments from both sides.
Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order, Blocking Implementation Of United Airlines’ Vaccine Mandate For Employees Seeking Religious or Medical Exemptions
The Temporary Restraining Order, issued by U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, prohibits United Airlines from placing employees who have sought exemptions on unpaid leave while the case is pending. United was the first U.S. airline to impose a vaccine mandate on employees and warned that employees in customer-facing roles who were granted an exemption would be placed on unpaid leave if seeking a medical exemption.
However, six employees sued United in Texas in what they hope will become a nationwide class-action lawsuit, urging a judge to block the implementation of the mandate.
A hearing was held on October 8th. United urged Judge Pittman to dismiss the case, but in a ruling last night, Pittman put United’s plans on hold:
“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.”
Note, this is not a ruling on the merits of the case (whether United can place employees who seek medical and/or religious exemptions on unpaid leave). Rather, this order forces United to continue to pay workers while this case is pending.
To date, about 2,000 United employees have sought exemptions, roughly 3% of United’s U.S. workforce of 67,000 employees. 99.3% of non-exempt employees have now been vaccinated.
United Airlines responded to ruling with a brief statement:
“Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United’s U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot. 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.”
Meanwhile, Mark Paoletta, one of the attorneys representing United employees, stated:
“United Airlines’ refusal to provide reasonable accommodations to its vaccine mandate violates the federal civil rights protections of our clients, the hard working men and women at United. We look forward to our clients’ rights be permanently protected.”
Judge Pittman will now consider merit arguments from both the employee plaintiffs and from defendant United.
A Texas judge has put the implementation of United’s vaccine mandate on hold while it considers the merits of the case. This is not a final ruling, but an expected intermediate ruling (based upon the choice of venue) that maintain the status quo while the case is playing out.
The case is Sambrano v. United Airlines, No. 4:21-cv-1074 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.