Appeals court orders review of airline vax policy that may have ‘coerced’ workers, caused ‘irreparable harm’

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals has reversed the ruling of a lower court and ruled that employees of United Airlines were “coerced” by the airline’s vaccine mandate, ordering a further review of the policy.

The issue will now be placed back in the hands of District Judge Mark Pittman, who denied the employees’ request for a preliminary injunction, citing court precedent and the employees’ failure to provide proof that the vaccine mandate would cause them “irreparable harm,” according to a report from Breitbart.

Federal Judges Andy Oldham and Jennifer Elrod disagreed with Pittman, arguing that violating their religious convictions does cause irreparable harm.

“Plaintiffs allege a harm that is ongoing and cannot be remedied later: they are actively being coerced to violate their religious convictions,” Judges Oldham and Elrod stated in their opinion. “Because that harm is irreparable, we reverse the district court.”

As BizPac Review reported in January, United Airlines placed more than 1,000 pilots on indefinite, unpaid leave for failing to comply with its vaccine mandate, leaving them without medical benefits and, for many, no access to their 401(k)s and unable to seek work elsewhere, which prompted the lawsuit.

“The Fifth Circuit, which is widely considered the most conservative appeals court, initially rejected an emergency request to halt the mandate in mid-December, but granted a motion to expedite an appeal in the case after Pitman’s decision to refuse the injunction in November 2021,” Breitbart reported.

According to Pittman’s opinion, United Airlines may be “callous,” but a loss of income does not rise to the level of “irreparable harm,” meaning the vaccine mandate did not meet the standards required to issue an injunction.

“The Court is not insensitive to Plaintiffs’ plight,” Pittman wrote. “A loss of income, even temporary, can quickly ripple out to touch nearly every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the lives of their families and dependents. But the Court’s analysis must be guided by the law, not by its sympathy.”

Oldham and Elrod disagreed, ruling that the United case illustrates two different kinds of harm, one of which is worthy of an injunction.

“The first is United’s decision to place them on indefinite unpaid leave; that harm, and any harm that flows from it, can be remedied through backpay, reinstatement, or otherwise,” the decision reads. “The second form of harm flows from United’s decision to coerce the plaintiffs into violating their religious convictions; that harm and that harm alone is irreparable and supports a preliminary injunction.”

Thus, the case will go back to Pittman, who may be more amenable to an injunction now that the matter of “irreparable harm” has been established, as he has already stated that, were it not for their failure to illustrate that one point, their arguments were “compelling and convincing.”

Wrote Pittman in November: “United’s mandate thus reflects an apathy, if not antipathy, for many of its employees’ concerns and a dearth of toleration for those expressing diversity of thought.”


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