United Airlines Faces Class Claims Over Employee Vaccine Mandate

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel


On September 21, 2021, class claims were filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against United Airlines Inc. (“United”) by a group of employees who allege that the airline has discriminated against employees who have resisted the companywide COVID-19 vaccine mandate based on religious or medical grounds.

In the complaint, named plaintiffs David Sambrano, David Castillo, Kimberly Hamilton, Debra Jennefer Thal Jonas, Genise Kincannon and Seth Turnbough describe how on August 6, 2021, United’s CEO Scott Kirby announced a companywide COVID-19 vaccine mandate which requires employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine within five weeks of the FDA granting full approval to a vaccine or five weeks after September 20, 2021, whichever came first. The FDA approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on August 23, 2021, leaving United employees with a September 27, 2021 deadline to receive at least the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and to upload their vaccination record to the United “Flying Together” database.

The plaintiffs argue that United has left its employees with very little choice other than submitting to vaccination or losing their position with the airline. To bolster their argument, the plaintiffs pointed to postcards the airline sent out to all unvaccinated employees in early September 2021, which allegedly informed employees that unvaccinated individuals without a reasonable accommodation would be separated from the company. The plaintiffs allege that the defendant has made it clear that very few people successfully obtain a medical or religious exemption from United and that those who do obtain an accommodation are potentially subject to several years of unpaid leave from the company. The plaintiffs argue that United has not offered any alternatives to vaccination such as regular COVID-19 testing, mask wearing or social distancing.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a class made up of all United employees who have requested or will request accommodations from United’s vaccine mandate and who have had those accommodation requests either formally or effectively denied and are thus faced with the decision of either taking a vaccine that they object to or having their employment terminated with United, or facing the functional equivalent to termination: indefinite unpaid leave. The suit brings causes of action for violation of violation of Title VII religious discrimination and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The case is: Sambrano et al. v. United Airlines Inc., Case No.: 4:21-cv-01074, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

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