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5th Circuit Rejects Request from United Airlines Employees to Block Company’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

In a decision from the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, in a bid to block the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a divided court rejected an emergency request for an injunction from United Airlines employees. The request came in the wake of a November ruling by a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, which also ruled in favor of United Airlines.

United Airlines was the first major air carrier to implement a vaccine mandate and has so far granted about 2,000 exemptions. Its policy would place on unpaid leave any employees who fail to get the COVID-19 vaccine (and who fail to qualify for an exemption). The key question, in this case, is the extent to which United Airlines has accommodated employees’ religious or medical exemptions. The six plaintiffs claim that United Airlines’ policy is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for all aspects of an employee’s religious beliefs, absent “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”

While the Fifth Circuit did not rule on the merits, two of the three judges denied the motion for an injunction citing previous decisions but did not offer any additional reasoning. Judge James C. Ho dissented asserting that the mandate placed a substantial burden on one’s religion and calling the harm a “quintessentially irreparable injury, warranting preliminary injunctive relief.” The Fifth Circuit did, however, grant a request from the plaintiffs for an expedited appeal. That hearing and the court’s decision should provide some guidance on the legal constraints and guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Copyright ©2022 Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 350
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About this Author

Mitch Boyarsky Attorney Labor Employment Nelson Mullins New York
Partner

Mitch Boyarsky focuses his practice on labor and employment. He advises clients in a variety of workplace subjects, particularly focused on restrictive covenant, wage and hour, executive contracts matters, transactional employment matters especially related to mergers and acquisitions, disability law compliance measures, and related employment litigation. For more than 25 years, he has represented management in workplace law. Mr. Boyarsky often litigates matters in federal and state court, especially in New Jersey and New York. Such litigations involve alleged employment discrimination,...

646-428-2619
Benjamin Lichtman Boston Commercial Real Estate Associate Attorney Nelson Mullins Law Firm
Associate

Ben focuses his practice on commercial real estate matters, including representing parties in the acquisition, disposition and financing of commercial real estate properties and representing landlords and tenants in commercial real estate leasing matters, including the leasing of office, retail, and industrial facilities. Ben has worked on a range of environmental matters, including acquisitions and dispositions of environmentally impacted properties, negotiation and drafting of contracts involving the handling and disposal of waste, environmental due diligence, and...

617-217-4670
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