Federal court strikes down vaccination mandate, citing religious freedom

A federal court has denied a request for a rehearing in a case involving United Airlines’ vaccination mandate – with a judge accusing the company of “constrain[ing] its employees to violate their religious beliefs.

Judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, widely considered the most conservative federal court, voted 13 to 4 on Thursday to refuse a new hearing. The court also denied United Airlines’ request to overturn the opinion of a February panel, which found the warrant caused irreparable harm and sent the case back to the district court.

Trump-appointed judge James Ho wrote a concurring opinion, chastising the airline for creating a “crisis of conscience” for its employees, and warned of a new wave of corporatism in the United States that seeks to impose its cultural values ​​on Americans.

Ho wrote that forcing employees with sincere religious objections to take vaccines that “have been developed using aborted fetal tissue” or who face indefinite unpaid leave, is “obvious irreparable harm” because that he “presses[ures employees] to violate his faith. Ho said:

Being placed on indefinite unpaid leave because your employer dislikes your religious beliefs is obviously an adverse employment action and legal action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And you have obviously suffered irreparable harm when you are forced to violate your faith in order to get your job back. The injury would be fully reparable through damages if it was only a loss of money.

But it’s not. It is a loss of faith. And this is a crisis of conscience. You are forced to sacrifice your faith to keep your job. No damage metric makes sense in this scenario. To keep your job, you must violate your faith. How much money would you need to sell your faith?

Notably, United Airlines had one of the toughest coronavirus vaccine mandates in the country for a private company, even compared to competing airlines. Last August, the airline told its 67,000 U.S. employees they would have to get vaccinated against the virus or face layoffs. United reported that around 96% complied with the mandate, although several hundred who refused were fired. About 2,200 employees received religious and medical exemptions, although this consisted of the company giving them what it called “reasonable accommodation” by placing them on unpaid leave and stripping them of medical benefits.

The warrant has resulted in an ongoing trial. In September 2021, six United Airlines employees sued the company over the warrant in a class action lawsuit on behalf of the 2,200 exemptions claimants, alleging the company violated Title VII of the Human Rights Act. of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against them because of their religious beliefs and medical conditions.

The case is back in the hands of District Judge Mark Pittman, who is also appointed by Trump. However, the airline allowed unvaccinated staff to return to work on March 28, citing a “sharp drop” in coronavirus cases as the reason for the policy change.

Ho pointed out that “courts should take [corporations] responsible, neither less nor more than individuals. He added:

Businesses are not people. But like people, businesses are able to follow the law as well as break it. Moreover, by combining and coordinating human efforts, companies can achieve much more. They can have a greater impact on society than most individuals. As a result, corporations can do far more good and cause far more harm. So when companies violate the law, the courts should hold them no less and no more liable than individuals.

Ho also noted that if this case is “pioneering”, it is not because of the way the law is applied but because of the “behavior of the industry”.

“Historically, companies have generally focused on increasing shareholder value, not imposing certain cultural values ​​on others. But that is changing rapidly,” he said.

Ho presented a hypothetical situation in which an employer who does not care about the productivity of his employees “insists that you give up certain religious beliefs that he finds offensive, be it abortion, marriage, sexuality, sex or something else.

“But here’s the thing: what was once hypothetical is now fast becoming reality. Examples of this abound,” he wrote, citing various news reports as examples. “So this case may be the first, but I suspect it won’t be the last.

Ho further quoted a passage from Woke, Inc.: Inside America’s Corporate Social Justice Scamon how “companies use their market power to establish moral rules, they effectively prevent . . . other citizens to have the same say in our democracy. He wrote:

My point today is less ambitious: we know what this new corporate trend is doing to employees. It violates the religious beliefs of workers across the country. And in cases like this, the injuries are irreparable. So unlike the dissent, I am grateful that our court is taking the steps it is taking today.

“And unlike dissent, I don’t think our circuit will stand alone, as cases like this inevitably multiply across the country, assuming corporate trends persist.” But if our circuit proves to be alone in its defense of religious freedom, I will still be grateful for our actions today,” he concluded.

The deal is Sambrano vs. United Airlines21-11159 with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.


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