A federal judge has ruled that United Airlines can place its unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave, even if those employees received religious or medical exemptions from the coronavirus vaccine.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman in Fort Worth, Texas, expressed sympathy for the employees in his ruling Monday and even called United’s handling of their vaccine concerns “calloused.” But the employees are not in an “impossible position” as they claimed and they did not prove that “they would likely suffer imminent, irreparable injury” if placed on unpaid leave, he stated.
“The Court’s analysis must be guided by the law, not by its sympathy,” Pittman said, while responding to the employees’ concerns about a potential loss of income for refusing to comply. “Despite the novel facts presented here, the case law is clear that hardships stemming from loss of income are remediable; axiomatically such hardships cannot be called irreparable.”
The employees seeking the preliminary injunction against United’s vaccine policy ― identified in their complaint as an aircraft captain, flight attendant, aircraft technician and mechanic, station operation representative, and a customer support representative ― had accused the company of failing to provide reasonable religious accommodations, of retaliating against them for requesting vaccine exemptions, and of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide reasonable medical accommodations for qualified employees.
United has said it will offer its employees who have qualified for religious or medical vaccine exemptions new roles that will not allow for close contact with customers. These roles will be made available until the company has decided it is safe for unvaccinated employees to return to their original positions. If these unvaccinated employees do not accept those roles, they will be placed on unpaid leave.
“We’re pleased with the court’s decision today,” a United spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement Tuesday. “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 CEO Scott Kirby has pushed hard for his employees to get vaccinated, leading to just over 99% of its employees getting the shot, he said last month.