A federal judge in Texas has halted United Airlines’ vaccine mandate enforcement. The company has been putting employees who claim religious exemptions to forced vaccination on unpaid leave.
“A U.S. judge in Texas on Tuesday temporarily restrained United Airlines from placing any employee on unpaid leave who receive religious exemptions from the company for COVID-19 vaccinations until Oct. 26.,’ Reuters reported. “The Judge also temporarily restrained the airline from denying any late requests for religious or medical accommodations.”
In September, United Airlines employees sued the company over its pre-emptive issuance of an employee mandate ahead of the Biden administration’s formal issuance of a federal vaccine mandate.
“Six United Airlines employees filed a federal lawsuit against the company this week seeking to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from going into effect,” the Hill reported. “The complaint, filed Tuesday in a Texas federal court, alleges that the company discriminated against employees who requested religious or medical accommodations.”
The class action lawsuit, led by United Airlines captain David Sambrano, a North Texas resident, was reported by the Texan.
“The complaint, filed on September 21, asks for an injunction against United Airlines that would prevent them from terminating or placing on unpaid leave any employee who has a basis for seeking a religious or medical exemption,” the Texan reported on Monday. “The injunction hearing is currently set for October 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, where Judge Mark Pittman presides.”
“United has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit which is also set for a hearing on the same day at 8:30 a.m.,” the report added.
While Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued an executive order that bars enforcement of any vaccine mandate in the state, including those issued by private employers, major airline carriers are vowing to defy the order.
American and Southwest airlines say they will continue implementing vaccine mandate despite Texas’ move, Politico reported on Tuesday. Southwest also issued a statement on the matter.
“Federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” Southwest said.
However, Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly said in an interview on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” that employees would not be terminated over the company’s vaccine mandate, despite earlier company correspondence to the contrary.
“We are not going to fire any employees over this,” Kelly said.
The timing of the Southwest CEO’s announcement may have less to do with his convictions against company mandates than litigation recently filed against the airline in a Dallas, Texas district court.
“Southwest Airlines Co. pilots asked a court to temporarily block the company from carrying out federally mandated coronavirus vaccinations until an existing lawsuit over alleged U.S. labor law violations is resolved,” Bloomberg reported.
“The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s filing Friday also asked for an immediate hearing on the request before a federal court in Dallas, claiming the carrier has continued to take unilateral actions that violate terms of the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-union relations,” the report continued. “Those steps include the Covid-19 vaccination requirement.”
The Southwest flights started to be cancelled on Saturday, and nearly 2,000 flight have been delayed. Southwest continues to deny a “sick out” is at the heart of the operational problems.
“We can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” Southwest sted in a press release. The airline blamed “poor planning” and “external operational challenges” for the delays.
On Tuesday morning, however, the issues appeared to be resolved and Southwest Airlines ceased leading the industry in cancellations and delays. There won’t be an official announcement over a “sick out” this weekend, since it would be considered an illegal labor practice under the union’s contract, but the timing of the Texas lawsuit looms large over the CEO’s announcement.
Texas’ governor recently issued an executive order that vaccine mandates will not be enforced in the State of Texas. Since the Biden administration has not yet formally issued the federal vaccine regulation, more than a month after its announcement, Texas is forcing the Biden administration’s hand to issue the unlawful mandate so that it can be litigated in court.
On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fined Leon County $3.75 million because it imposed a Covid-19 vaccine mandate despite the state’s “vaccine passport” ban. Meanwhile, in a New York court battle that has been seen as a ‘test case’ for Biden’s forthcoming federal vaccine mandate, a judge has struck down enforcement of the state’s vaccine mandate as unconstitutional on equal protection and First Amendment grounds.