Despite being “disturbed” by United Airlines’ “seemingly calloused approach to its employees’ deeply personal concerns” in implementing its coronavirus vaccine mandate, District Judge Mark Pittman ruled in favor of the airline on Monday, ultimately allowing the mandate to move forward.
Six United Airlines employees filed a class action lawsuit against the company for its “draconian” Chinese coronavirus vaccine mandate in September, alleging the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against them based on their religious and medical exemptions. Employees who were granted religious and medical accommodations are to be placed on unpaid leave and with lose their health benefits, an action plaintiffs asserted is not a “reasonable accommodation.”
United Airlines originally told its 67,000 U.S. employees they must be vaccinated against the coronavirus (or secure an exemption) by September 27 or face termination. However, unvaccinated employees were able to continue working normally during the lawsuit after the judge issued a temporary restraining order, barring the company from imposing its mandate during litigation.
Plaintiffs overall hoped the judge would issue a preliminary injunction; however, Pittman ruled that the employees were unable to prove “irreparable harm,” a factor which is required in order for a court to do so. His ruling covers approximately 2,000 employees who received religious or medical exemptions.
“The Court is not insensitive to Plaintiffs’ plight. A loss of income, even temporary, can quickly ripple out to touch nearly every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the lives of their families and dependents. But the Court’s analysis must be guided by the law, not by its sympathy,” Pittman said in his opinion, acknowledging that some plaintiff’s in the lawsuit will suffer hardships such losing income to pay for cancer treatments, becoming homeless, and being unable to pay for their child’s’ education.
“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,” he continued.
Pittman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, noted that it is “the province and duty of the Court to apply the law as written, rather than creating policy from the bench,” though he criticized United Airlines for its treatment of its employees and said plaintiffs’ “arguments appear compelling and convincing at this stage.”
There are many divergent views on how United handled this delicate situation. To be sure, the Court is disturbed by United’s seemingly calloused approach to its employees’ deeply personal concerns with injecting a foreign substance into their bodies. This is especially true since United stated on the record that 99% of its employees are vaccinated and that there is virtually no chance to transmit COVID-19 on its planes.
United has thus instituted a regime in which nothing short of complete compliance with its commands will suffice. Any dissenters will be given the trifling pittance of indefinite unpaid leave. United’s mandate thus reflects an apathy, if not antipathy, for many of its employees’ concerns and a dearth of toleration for those expressing diversity of thought.
He specifically reproved United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby for seemingly mocking employees with religious objections to coronavirus vaccines in a video played as evidence during the hearing. In the video from an August 25-26 a virtual internal Flight Ops Town Hall, which Breitbart News obtained, Kirby can be heard talking about how difficult it will be for employees to obtain exemptions.
“Um, by the way, there are going to be very few people who get through the medical and religious exemption. There’s some pretty strict rules about that. So, I would encourage any pilot that’s decided they have, all of the sudden, or any employee that has all of the sudden decided ‘I’m really religious’ um, ‘And I’m gonna say I’m gonna get…’ You know, you’re putting your job on the line. You better be very careful about that,” Kirby said to the virtual town hall attendees.
Pittman said the video shows Kirby’s “expressed skepticism and apparent disdain for any religiously-motivated exemption requests.”
“Such statements paint a vivid picture of United’s perspective on employees who requested religious exemptions. United’s subsequent actions in ‘accommodating’ these employees suggest that United’s actions may not have been motivated by safety concerns. Instead, United’s actions may be viewed as merely pretextual,” Pittman wrote. “Ultimately, however, it is not for the Court to decide if United’s vaccine mandate is bad policy. Rather, it is the Court’s role to determine if Plaintiffs carried their burden to obtain a preliminary injunction.”
In a statement to the Hill, United Airlines said it was pleased with the court’s decision.
“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,” the company said.
Mark Paoletta, who is a partner at Schaerr-Jaffe, the powerhouse Washington, DC, law firm representing the plaintiffs, released a statement to Breitbart News on Tuesday expressing hope for the future of the case in light of the judge’s decision.
We are disappointed that the Court did not immediately enjoin United from violating our clients’ civil rights. However, we are encouraged that the Court saw United’s actions, and in particular United CEO Scott Kirby’s actions, for what they are – a pretext for unlawful discrimination and not based on any legitimate safety rationale. As the Court noted, the evidence showed United’s “antipathy” for its “employees’ concerns and a dearth of toleration for those expressing diversity of thought.”
This “calloused approach” is unsurprising, the Court noted, given Mr. Kirby’s outrageous statements threatening employees with religious-based objections that they are “putting your job on the line.” While the Court may not have held that our clients’ injuries are irreparable, that only means that United faces substantial monetary damages at the end of this matter. We look forward to continuing to litigate this case and vindicating the civil rights of United employees.”
United Airlines was the first big airline to institute a vaccine mandate. Since then, bedlam has broken out as other airlines follow in its footsteps — airline employees have been protesting across the country, and thousands of unvaccinated workers face firing. Most airlines are federal contractors, meaning they fall under President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates. Both Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and his mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees have been temporarily halted in court.
The case is Sambrano v. United Airlines, No. 4:21-cv-01074, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter.