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Employee group sues United Airlines over vaccination religious exemption policies

The friendly skies are not so friendly to thousands of employees who risk losing their jobs by seeking religious exemptions to United Airlines vaccination mandates.

“Any pilot or any employee that all of the sudden decides, ‘I’m really religious,’ you’re putting your job on the line,” said Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines. “You better be very careful about that.”

Kirby’s approach has led more than 2,000 United workers to join a class-action lawsuit against their employer. They endured unpaid leave after applying for a religious or medical exemption to the company’s sweeping vaccine mandate. The group called Airline Employees for Health Freedom said the airline violated their statutory rights. United fired at least 200 workers and left another 2,000 unpaid for more than a month.

“We are standing for our religious freedom and our medical autonomy, and we believe we are entitled to the protections under Title VII,” said Sherry Walker, a cofounder of the group and captain for United Airlines.

Their plight also caught the attention of the Senate Oversight Committee. Lawmakers questioned major airlines about their handling of more than $70 million in Cares Act money that was used to dig out big airlines from the pandemic fallout. United’s business practices pertaining to the vaccine mandate drew the biggest attention from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“This morning I spoke with a 10-year flight attendant for United,” he said. “She is a Hispanic single mom from Texas whom you fired. She received her termination notice tied to the trash can through her front gate.”

On top of unpaid leave or termination, Walker said the company is prohibiting them from seeking outside employment and refusing them access to their savings and 401(k)s. The group’s case now rests with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the workers win on merit and receive a preliminary injunction, United would have to restore their employment or give them paid leave.

–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice