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United Airlines staff file lawsuit over denied vaccine exemptions

written by Isabella Richards | September 23, 2021
A file image of a United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9. (Wikimedia Commons/Konstantin von Wedelstaedt).

Six employees have filed a lawsuit against United Airlines for denying vaccination exemptions over medical and religious beliefs.

The staff filed the class action lawsuit to the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas-Fort Worth Division on Tuesday.

The Chicago-based carrier allegedly placed the employees on unpaid leave and now the plaintiffs have accused United of discrimination prohibited by law.

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While numerous airlines have imposed vaccine mandates on employees, companies have almost always exempted staff based on medical or religious beliefs.

According to the filing, the workers who sought exemptions were forced to answer intrusive enquiries about their reasoning and submit letters from pastors.

Four of the employees sought religious exemptions, one said they were allergic to eggs and penicillin, and the other has multiple sclerosis and said their doctor advised against receiving the vaccination.

“United’s actions have left Plaintiffs with the impossible choice of either taking the COVID-19 vaccine, at the expense of their religious beliefs and their health, or losing their livelihoods,” lawyers said in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs said the airline urged employees to request exemptions before 31 August, and past that date they would be automatically declined.

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United Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott said the carrier is “reviewing this complaint in greater detail, but at this point we think it’s without merit”.

The company said there had been an overwhelmingly positive response to the vaccine mandate after 97 per cent of its US employees have now received the jab.

The airline added it would begin termination proceedings against unvaccinated workers with no exemption next week.

Apparently, before the company even imposed the requirement, up to 90 per cent of its pilots and almost 80 per cent of its flight attendants were already double-jabbed.

Many airlines have mandated the vaccination since the Delta variant swept across the nation in early June.

United was one of the few carriers to mandate it before President Joe Biden increased the pressure in early September, requiring companies with above 100 employees to receive the jab.

The company made the move in early August, and said employees who were double-jabbed before 20 September would receive an additional day off.

CEO Scott Kirby at the time of the mandate said he knew some employees would disagree, but the “facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer” among vaccinated peers.

Before it was a requirement, United only mandated crew to be vaccinated if travelling to high-risk nations and new hires.

 

 

 

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