U.S. court orders further review of United Airlines vaccine mandate

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday ordered a new review of a decision not to block United Airlines from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to return the issue to a U.S. district judge who had rejected a request for an injunction blocking the mandate while employees argue their case against it. Chicago-based United was the first major air carrier to issue a vaccine requirement.

Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Andrew S. Oldham ruled United’s policy forces employees to choose “between pay and adhering to religious convictions.

The majority reversed the district court conclusion suing employees “have not demonstrated irreparable injury absent an injunction” and sent it back for “consideration of the remaining preliminary injunction factors.”

United said Thursday “there’s no doubt our vaccine requirement has saved lives and kept our employees out of the hospital…. We will continue to vigorously defend our policy.”

In a scathing dissent, Judge Jerry E. Smith said the majority wanted to “play CEO of a multinational corporation” and “shatters every dish in the china shop,” adding “for every conceivable reason that the (employees) could lose this appeal, they should.”

He added: “Nothing, especially not the law, will thwart this majority’s plans.”

In December, United Chief Executive Scott Kirby (NYSE:KEX) defended the employee mandate: “We did this for safety. We believe it saved lives.”

Kirby said about 200 of United’s 67,000 employees did not comply and were fired. He added about six pilots were fired out of about 13,000.

“Sickness is bad for business—and for unvaccinated pilots, who are more likely to die from the coronavirus than are their vaccinated colleagues,” Smith wrote.