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United Airlines COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Prompts Judge's TRO

United Airlines temporarily can't force employees to take unpaid leave if they have a medical or religious excuse from taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

United Airlines  (UAL) - Get Free Report can't force employees with a medical or religious accommodation for the COVID-19 vaccination to take unpaid leave after Texas federal judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order.

Judge Mark T. Pittman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth issued the TRO on behalf of a group of United employees against the airline that also prevents it from denying any requests for religious or medical accommodations from the airline's COVID-19 vaccine mandate due to timeliness. The policy had a deadline of Aug. 31 for employees to submit their exemption requests.

The TRO is set to expire Oct. 26. A group of six United employees are also seeking a preliminary injunction to restrain the airline while it seeks a ruling on a class-action lawsuit that it filed against United on Sept. 21. 

The employees filed the lawsuit in response to the airline's COVID-19 vaccine mandate seeking to end United's alleged "pattern of discrimination against employees who requested religious or medical accommodations from United's mandate that its employees receive COVID-19 vaccine." 

The employees claim in the lawsuit that United has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act "by failing to engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations, and also by retaliating against employees who engaged in protected activity."

United's CEO Scott Kirby on Aug. 6 announced the airline's employee COVID-19 vaccine mandate that required employees to receive their first dose of vaccine and upload a copy of the vaccination record to a United database by Sept. 27, according to court papers. 

Employees who did not upload a vaccination record by Sept. 27 would be terminated, but the mandate said employees could request accommodations for religious or health reasons.

On Sept. 9, United said that any employee receiving a religious or medical accommodation would be put on indefinite unpaid leave with no company-paid benefits beginning Oct. 2, court papers said.

Kirby told CBS on Wednesday that 99.7% of United's 67,000 employees are vaccinated. He also said that the airline was in the process of terminating 232 unvaccinated employees.

Shares of United Airlines on Friday closed 0.2% higher at $48.