A federal judge in Texas issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against United Airlines on Wednesday, blocking the airline from imposing a vaccine mandate against any of its employees in a nationwide class-action lawsuit.
According to the judicial order, which could be the first of its kind in the country against a coronavirus vaccine mandate, United Airlines is prohibited from placing employees with religious and medical exemptions on unpaid leave until October 26 while litigation continues. The judge also prohibited the airline from denying any employee requests for religious or medical exemptions. Previously, the airline did not allow employees to apply for an exemption after August 31.
Earlier in the case, the airline agreed of its own accord to postpone its vaccine mandate until October 15 for employees with exemptions during litigation. The day before the October 8 hearing, however, United filed a partial motion to dismiss, alleging the court lacked jurisdiction over the claims in the lawsuit. In order to allow the court reasonable time to respond to the jurisdictional challenge and to rule in the evidentiary hearing for a preliminary injunction, which was reset for Wednesday, the judge issued the TRO.
United Airlines originally told its 67,000 U.S. employees they must be vaccinated against Chinese coronavirus (or secure an exemption) by September 27 or face termination. As the airline’s vaccine mandate stands, any employees with exemptions would still be considered employed but would be placed on unpaid leave and would lose their benefits for up to six years or until the airline deems pandemic conditions safe for unvaccinated employees to return, according to the complaint.