United Airlines’ plan to shunt aside employees who want an exemption from the company’s vaccine mandate has been grounded.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman of the North District of Texas ruled Tuesday that United could not act upon its plans to put employees on leave pending a hearing, according to CNN.
Pittman cautioned that he was not issuing a final ruling in the case.
“The court is not currently ruling on the merits of the parties’ arguments on these points,” he wrote in his two-page order. “Rather the court seeks simply to avoid the risk of irreparable harm to the parties and to maintain the status quo while the court holds an evidentiary hearing.”
About 2,000 of United’s 67,000 U.S. employees requested an exemption on either religious or medical grounds.
The airline responded by telling those workers that their requests would cost them.
Workers seeking medical exemptions, if granted, would be put on medical leave, with the amount of salary they would get — if any — dependent upon their union contract.
Anyone getting a religious exemption would forfeit his or her pay and be placed on leave under United’s policy. These employees would retain seniority if they ever wanted to come back to the airline.
Six employees filed a lawsuit last month. United initially said it was willing to halt their leaves as the case played out, but now the judge has underscored that it must do so.
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United said 232 employees face being fired for not getting vaccinated, according to CNN.
Mark Paoletta, the attorney for the employees fighting United in the court case, said the ruling was an important step.
“United Airlines’ refusal to provide reasonable accommodations to its vaccine mandate violates the federal civil rights protections of our clients, the hard working men and women at United,” Paoletta said.
“We look forward to our clients’ rights be permanently protected.”
“You can have a mandatory vaccination policy; however, employees may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation based on either a sincerely held religious belief and or a disability, if it doesn’t cause an undue burden on the employer,” she said.
Pittman’s order expires on Oct. 26.
United defended itself in a statement, according to CNN.
“Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United’s U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot,” the airline said.
“For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols.”