An ex-United Airlines pilot who was terminated for refusing to comply with a controversial COVID-19 vaccine mandate claims the Chicago-based airline encouraged vaccinated crew members to “disparage coworkers who were unvaccinated”, turning them into a “disfavored class” of disabled employee.
John Ellis was a veteran United Airlines pilot who had flown as a First Officer on several types of aircraft before he became a Captain on the Boeing 737. He claims United’s management “harassed and ridiculed” him after he refused to disclose his vaccination status.
The latest lawsuit to challenge United’s wide-sweeping vaccine mandate was filed in Illinois Northern District Court earlier this week and accuses United of disability discrimination by violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Ellis is seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
United was the first airline in the U.S. to issue a vaccine mandate for its employees in August 2021. The airline allowed unvaccinated employees to apply for a medical or religious exemption, but employees who refused to disclose their vaccination status or simply refused to comply with the mandate risked the threat of being sacked.
The mandate was quickly challenged by a group of pilots, flight attendants, and other employees in a Texas court, but after a months-long legal battle, a district judge sided with United and dismissed the lawsuit.
By November 2021, United started to place unvaccinated but exempt employees on unpaid leave, and at the same time the carrier started the process of terminating workers who had failed to comply with the mandate.
Ellis was sacked on November 1 after he failed to disclose his vaccination status. He submitted a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission who declined to proceed with the case but issued a ‘right to sue’ letter.
In his lawsuit, Ellis claims United management allowed unvaccinated employees to be ridiculed as “selfish, ignorant, and a threat” to other workers and passengers.
Ellis does not disclose his vaccination status in the lawsuit but accuses United of regarding him as unvaccinated simply because of his silence.
United is also battling another lawsuit by a second veteran ex-United pilot who was terminated in December 2021 was failing to comply with the vaccine mandate.
Andrew Risk claims he was infected with COVID-19 in the same month as United issued the mandate and that his doctors advised him not to get vaccinated because it could put him at risk of “severe harm”.
Risk says United initially accepted his exemption request but then withdrew the approval and quickly sacked him.
United started to let unvaccinated but exempt employees return to work in March 2022. The airline claims the mandate helped it to achieve a more than 99 per cent vaccination rate amongst its 67,000-strong U.S. workforce.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.