US Court Rejects Bid to Block United Airlines COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
December 14, 2021 Updated: December 15, 2021

A federal court panel turned down a bid to block United Airlines COVID-19 vaccine mandate, though one judge said he would have blocked the vaccination requirements.

Three judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a request by six United workers to halt the enforcement of the mandate, which has the company force workers given a religious or medical exemption to go on unpaid leave.

U.S. Circuit Judges Carl Stewart, a Clinton nominee, and Catharina Haynes, a George W. Bush nominee, chose to deny the request.

The pair didn’t offer a new opinion. Instead, they referred to the rationale outlined in previous rulings by U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, a Trump nominee who previously found plaintiffs did not show they would suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. The judges also pointed to the Supreme Court this week turning down a challenge to New York state’s mandate against health care workers, which includes no religious exemption.

U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho, a Trump nominee, said he would have granted the bid for a preliminary injunction pending appeal.

Ho said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of religion.

“Yet United is imposing a vaccine mandate on its employees despite their sincere religious objections—despite the company’s record admission that ‘there is virtually no chance to transmit COVID-19 on its planes’ because ‘99% of its employees’ are already vaccinated and federal regulations currently require all those on board to wear masks—and despite testimony that United currently allows not only unvaccinated passengers but also unvaccinated flight crew from other airlines as well as their own unvaccinated foreign employees on board,” he wrote in a dissent.

The choice between getting vaccinated or staying true to one’s faith is an irreparable injury, which means relief should be granted, Ho said.

“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. We have identified non-customer-facing roles where accommodated employees can apply and continue working until it is safe for them to return to their current positions,” a United spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email.

About 2,000 workers were approved for an exemption. Any of those workers who do not apply for a non-customer-facing role will be placed on leave indefinitely.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs indicated they would be seeking an en banc session, or a review of the case by the entire 5th Circuit Court.

“We’re glad Judge Ho was willing to protect our clients’ religious liberty, and we look forward to the opportunity to persuade a majority of the court,” Gene Schaerr, the lawyer, told The Epoch Times via email.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated which president nominated Judge Pittman and inaccurately described Pittman’s ruling. The Epoch Times regrets the errors.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.