Federal court finds United Airlines coerced employees into violating their religious convictions with COVID mandate

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just found that United Airlines improperly coerced its employees into violating their religious beliefs in the way it imposed its vaccine mandate, Just the News reported

The appeals court has ordered a lower court to reconsider a preliminary injunction that was requested by the employees who brought the case against United Airlines.

Background, including procedural history

Like many companies, United Airlines has mandated that its employees must get vaccinated against the coronavirus. This particular mandate did allow both religious and medical exemptions, and many United Airlines employees received these exemptions.

United Airlines, however, has decided to place these exempt employees, numbering around 2,000, on unpaid leave. The company also stripped them of their health benefits. United Airlines considers this a “reasonable accommodation.”

Some of the employees placed on unpaid leave decided to take United Airlines to court. As part of their lawsuit, they requested a preliminary injunction that would stop United Airlines from enforcing its vaccine mandate while the legality of the mandate is being challenged in court.

In November 2021, U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman denied that request.

In his opinion, Pittman said that he is “disturbed” by United Airlines’ “seemingly calloused approach to its employees’ deeply personal concerns.” But, the judge ultimately decided not to grant the preliminary injunction because, in his view, the plaintiffs did not suffer “irreparable harm,” one of the legal requirements for the injunction.

The latest ruling

The 5th Circuit just overturned Pittman’s decision finding that the plaintiffs have suffered irreparable harm.

The court explained:

The first is United’s decision to place them on indefinite unpaid leave; that harm, and any harm that flows from it, can be remedied through backpay, reinstatement, or otherwise. The second form of harm flows from United’s decision to coerce the plaintiffs into violating their religious convictions; that harm and that harm alone is irreparable and supports a preliminary injunction.

Now, the matter will head back to Pittman for him to decide whether or not to grant the preliminary injunction.

Pittman’s initial ruling would suggest that he will grant it. At one point, he wrote that, except for the irreparable harm requirement, the employees’ “arguments appear compelling and convincing.”

If Pittman does grant the preliminary injunction, then United Airlines may be forced to allow the employees that it placed on unpaid leave to return to work.

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