United employees sue the airline over exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, as the company announces 97% of workers have gotten the shot

United employees sue the airline over exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, as the company announces 97% of workers have gotten the shot
United Airlines
  • A group of United employees sued the company, saying it practiced a "pattern of discrimination" by denying their vaccine exemption requests.
  • More than 97% of the airline's employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 leading up to the September 27 vaccine deadline.
  • United Airlines was the first major US airline to require its employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to keep working.

Six United Airlines employees have filed a lawsuit against the company, saying it discriminated against workers through its company-wide vaccine mandate.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in a Texas federal court, alleges the company refused to engage with or denied employees' requests for religious or medical exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine, which they say violate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also said United's "indefinite unpaid leave" policy failed to provide "reasonable accommodations" to unvaccinated employees.

"United's actions have left Plaintiffs with the impossible choice of either taking the COVID-19 vaccine, at the expense of their religious beliefs and their health, or losing their livelihood," according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs vary in position across the company - two pilots, a flight attendant, and operations/service representatives. The lawsuit says they requested at least one of either exemptions, but were ultimately denied and put on "indefinite unpaid leave" by the company.

United Airlines has not yet responded to Insider's request for comment.


Meantime, the air carrier announced Wednesday that 97% of employees are now vaccinated against COVID-19. United was the first major US airline to issue a vaccination mandate for workers.

This comes less than a week before the company's major employee vaccine deadline of September 27, announced back in August. The company said in the original announcement that all new and current customer-facing employees would need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to continue working after the September deadline, unless granted exemption due to religious or medical reasons. Those placed on leave can return to their jobs once the company deems it "safe" to do so, but until then, the leave would be unpaid.

The company said it highly encourages, but does not require, its passengers to be vaccinated.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said the company accepted "most" of the exemption requests it received, but denied some requests after vetting. Kirby said only "a handful" of employees had quit over the vaccine requirement, adding the company expect more resignations by the vaccine deadline, but "it's going to be a very low number of people that ultimately choose to leave."

Delta Airlines has also set up a punitive system for its unvaccinated workers, bumping up health insurance for those refusing to get the vaccine. American Airlines cut off special pandemic leave for its unvaccinated employees, while Alaska Airlines announced it would stop offering paid time off to workers who contract COVID.