Two United pilots and other employees take legal action against airline over vaccination warrant
Two United Airlines captains, along with a flight attendant, an aircraft technician, a United Club customer service representative and a station operations representative, have filed a joint federal complaint against United, saying the airline is breaking the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with its far-reaching vaccine mandate that offers few concessions to employees with religious or medical exemptions.
Last week, it was revealed that nearly 7,000 of United’s U.S.-based employees still need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, even though the deadline for complying with United’s vaccine mandate is fast approaching.
Workers have until September 27 to receive the second injection of a two-dose vaccine schedule or the single-injection J&J Janssen vaccine. Employees who have not obtained an exemption and who are still not vaccinated by that date risk being made redundant.
United said on Wednesday the strict approach was working with 97% of US-based workers now having provided proof of vaccination to the airline. Separations for the unvaccinated and non-exempt could begin as early as next Tuesday.
The new lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, claims the warrant left workers “with an impossible choice to take the COVID-19 vaccine, to the detriment of their religious beliefs and their health, or lose their means of subsistence ”.
Captain David Sambrano and Captain Seth Tunrburgh have both been asked to take indefinite leave without pay as “reasonable accommodation” which United say is in line with guidelines from the Equal Rights Commission. employment opportunities (EEOC).
Flight attendant Genise Kincannon, customer service representative Debra Jonas and station operations representative Kimberley Hamilton were also offered an “indefinite period of unpaid leave” after their requests for religious exemption or medical have been granted.
Aviation technician David Castillo submitted his exemption request too late to be accepted through a special online form put in place by United, but he requested a medical exemption directly through his supervisor. Exemption is likely to be granted, but otherwise he risks being made redundant.
United has told employees who are scheduled to take unpaid leave that they will not be allowed to return to work until the threat of COVID-19 significantly diminishes. The lawsuit brought by the six workers asserts that it will be “probably several years of unpaid leave without benefits: indeed, a dismissal”.
This United policy contrasts with the federal government’s recent announcement that the Department of Labor is developing a rule requiring certain large employers to prescribe vaccination. Where periodic tests for its employees. United does not offer the option of periodic testing, either in general or for employees who receive accommodation, ”the lawsuit continues.
The lawsuit also says United’s policy is much stricter than Europe’s so-called 3G COVID-19 certificate – which allows people to enter establishments like bars and nightclubs if they prove that they are fully vaccinated, or have recently tested negative, or have recently recovered from a past infection.
United allegedly exerted ‘substantial and unreasonable pressure’ on its employees to get vaccinated and chief executive Scott Kirby reportedly ‘threatened’ employees and warned that they were ‘putting their jobs at risk’ if they applied for an exemption medical or religious.
The airline began sending postcards to unvaccinated employees earlier this month, warning that anyone who did not get the vaccine or get an exemption would be “separated” from the company.
“Since these postcards were not sent in an envelope, United effectively disseminated the vaccination status of its employees to anyone who saw the postcards,” the lawsuit claims.
Once employees requested a religious exemption, United began to probe their beliefs further. “What about your religious belief that prevents you from receiving COVID vaccines, but not taking other types of medication,” was just a question United asked employees seeking an answer? ‘exemption.
“Have you ever been vaccinated; “” And “Are you currently taking or have you taken any medications of any kind (over the counter or prescription)? were two other questions posed by the airline.
Employees were also asked to provide written pastoral support attesting to their religious beliefs.
In attempting to bring a class action lawsuit against United, the group of six believe as many as 2,000 workers could be brought together in the classroom. Among other demands, the lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent United from firing employees who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
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