Lawsuit: United Airlines Mocked and Shamed Vaccine Mandate Holdouts — CEO Accused of Floating 'Scarlet Letter' on ID Badges

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and upper management expressed animosity toward religious employees who sought exemptions from the company’s draconian coronavirus vaccine mandate, internal company communications have revealed.

A legal brief filed early Saturday in part of a larger lawsuit against the airline contains internal communications obtained in discovery, which shows management’s effort to coerce religious employees to take the coronavirus vaccine at every turn. The effort was so blatant that one union president, Craig Symons, expressed to Scott Kirby and others that United was “over the line” and attempting to institute a “purge of religious orthodoxy,” the brief revealed.

“These employees love their jobs, and it’s appalling that United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby would try to force these good people to violate their faith or put their health at risk as a condition for being able to keep their jobs,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Paoletta from Schaerr Jaffe LLP. “Kirby’s hostility and utter contempt for his employees’ faith and health are despicable and violates their civil rights, and he should be held accountable, both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.”

United Airlines had one of the strictest coronavirus vaccine mandates in the country for a private company, even compared to competing airlines. In August of 2021, the airline told its 60,000-plus U.S. employees that they would have to get vaccinated against the virus or face firing. United reported at the time that roughly 96 percent complied with the mandate, though several hundred who refused were fired. Approximately 2,300 employees received religious and medical exemptions, though that consisted of the company granting them what it called a “reasonable accommodation” by placing them on unpaid leave and stripping them of their medical benefits.

Several employees sued the airline the next month, alleging the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against them based on their religious and medical exemptions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ultimately held that the mandate inflicted irreparable harm and remanded the case to the district court.

In addition to the loss of their income for several months before the federal court order got them back on the job while this lawsuit is ongoing, those employees, many of whom are self-professing Christians who objected to the vaccine because it was developed using aborted fetal tissue, reported experiencing “mental anguish, financial and emotional distress.” Plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged that they were dealing with highly adverse outcomes because of the “reasonable accommodation,” like risking homelessness and foregoing a spouse’s cancer treatment.

Captain Sherry Walker, co-founder of Airline Employees for Health Freedom, exclusively told Breitbart News, “Literally thousands of United Airlines employees lost their paycheck when they were illegally denied reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs, hurting their ability to put food on the table and pay family medical bills because of CEO Scott Kirby’s punitive mandate, which we now learn arose from Kirby’s shocking disdain for people of faith.”

Sambrano v United Airlines-238-Motion to Certify Class Action by Breitbart News on Scribd

The brief quotes from internal company communications show upper management’s efforts to intimidate religious employees, including asking inappropriate and probing questions about their faith and attempting to cause strife in their marriages by sending home notes written in “red text” threatening termination.

The brief first alleges that “to achieve total compliance with its mandate, United immediately began pressuring employees not to seek accommodations.” Kirby was also caught on video mocking religious employees who did not want to take the vaccine.

The brief states:

At the outset, Mr. Kirby threatened employees to “be very careful about” requesting such accommodations because “very few”  people would “get through the medical and religious exemption process.” And Mr. Kirby derisively described such employees as “all [of a] sudden decid[ing] I’m really religious.” Making his plans clear, Mr. Kirby warned that anyone who applied for an accommodation was “putting [their] job on the line.” 


The lawsuit alleges that “the same message was communicated within United’s leadership.”

“United required its leaders to ‘call out that it’s a high bar for’ the reasonable accommodation process (‘RAP’), and that ‘only a small percentage of RAPs are expected to be granted,”‘ the brief continues, citing internal communications. “United’s leadership confirmed that it would apply this ‘high bar’ to accommodation requests because this was ‘a Scott-level initiative’ made ‘consciously knowing that [it] would upset some people.”‘

At one point, Kirby allegedly proposed “requiring accommodated employees to walk around with special stickers on their badges broadcasting vaccination states,” the brief states.

“Unsurprisingly, United’s lawyers shot down this idea. And United acknowledged that Mr. Kirby’s idea would ‘create conflict’ in the workplace,” the lawsuit alleges, citing internal communications. “In fact, even some HR employees were taken aback by Mr. Kirby’s proposal, stating that putting stickers on unvaccinated employees’ badges is ‘like the scarlet letter…Oh my goodness. Who are we???”‘

The lawsuit further argues that this top-down attitude toward religious employees seeking exemptions led HR representatives responsible for reviewing accommodation requests to “[feel] free to mock and criticize those requests.” According to the lawsuit, United’s records show there were more than 5,000 religious and medical accommodations requested, and just 2,300 were approved.  

The lawsuit alleges:

For instance, one HR representative suggested that “[t]hese people are probably going to do what they have been doing … buying fake vaccine cards and adding it, or filing a ‘religious exemption’… Our employees cannot be trusted[.]”

Another United employee responsible for reviewing accommodation requests called an employee’s request for a medical exemption “bullsh**” and assumed the condition was fabricated after this lawsuit was filed.

And yet another HR representative criticized an employee seeking a religious accommodation for probably “purchas[ing] a statue of [] Buddha from Amazon,” [further stating] “I want to know where ppl are getting these sham Drs to write them off for these alleged illness[es].”  These criticisms were sufficiently pervasive that United’s leadership was aware of them.

Part of the alleged pressure campaign against employees seeking accommodations included United “broadcast[ing] its employees’ vaccination status by sending postcards to all employees who had not yet provided proof of vaccination.” The lawsuit alleges that Kirk Limacher, vice president of HR Services, “insisted that they state in conspicuous ‘red text’ that would ‘stand out more’ that failing to be vaccinated would result in termination.”

“Mr. Limacher wanted to ensure that the ‘spouse not … miss [the warning].’  For United leadership, it wasn’t enough to pressure employees in the workplace, they also wanted employees considering an accommodation to be pressured at home,” the lawsuit alleges. 

United also allegedly sent “a list of offensive questions to anyone who requested a religious accommodation,” the lawsuit states.

One question allegedly asked, “Do your religious beliefs or practices prevent you from getting vaccinated for the sake of helping others avoid COVID-19?” 

“Recognizing the harassing nature of these questions, one union president, Craig Symons, expressed to Kate Gebo and Scott Kirby that United was ‘over the line’ and attempting to institute a ‘purge of religious orthodoxy,”‘ the lawsuit alleges, citing internal communications:

Ms. Gebo acknowledged that she could see why these questions would lead employees to ‘raise the concern.’  Other HR employees agreed, stating that they ‘feel incredibly uncomfortable having my name attached to cases that question someone’s religious faith… Many of the cases that we are receiving are from people who believe with their very CORE in what they are requesting.”‘

The brief argues that the “same hostility to religion continued during this litigation,” with United’s counsel asking parties and non-parties “offensive and irrelevant questions about religious beliefs…”

The brief alleges:

Including whether Kimberly Hamilton would “donate to a group that believed that gay and lesbian parents shouldn’t be able to adopt children,” whether Dave Castillo believes his drinking alcohol conflicts with his Buddhist precepts, whether non-party Amber Davis (who isn’t Catholic) was aware of the Catholic church’s view of COVID-19 vaccines, or whether non-party Dennis Cole would use Johnson & Johnson soap on his grandchild.”

United also “employed religious language to coerce employees into getting vaccinated rather than seek a religious accommodation,” the lawsuit alleges.

“United told employees that getting vaccinated was about ‘loving your neighbor and colleague as yourself,”’ the brief alleges. 

The brief notes that United eventually “abandoned these offensive questions,” but only after having to change the accommodation requesting process because of the “volume of requests”:

Instead, United adopted a uniform formula for evaluating religious accommodation requests. If an employee articulated a religious reason for not receiving the vaccine and provided an “attestation from someone the employees know firsthand,” United approved the RAP because United concluded that the employee had a ‘deeply held religious belief.

RELATED: Sen. Ted Cruz Slams United Airlines CEO’s “Deeply Disturbing” Treatment of Employees

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation

Responding to the new details of the case, former U.S. Ambassador Ken Blackwell, senior fellow for human rights and constitutional governance at the Family Research Council, noted that “individual conscience is the heart of individuals liberty.”

“So when those in power punish people for living according to their religious faith, they are assaulting the core of what makes us a free society,” Blackwell told Breitbart News.

The brief, which was filed in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Texas, requests that the case be given class-action status — that is, to represent all United employees who were subjected to the airline’s “accommodations,” including those who were subject to United’s subsequent extreme masking and testing mandate.

“We hope the court finds that Kirby’s blatant hostility toward his employees is unlawful, and that certifying these plaintiffs as representatives in a class action will give justice for thousands who suffered from his woke discrimination,” Walker said.

The request argues that “United’s discriminatory scheme is an affront to the liberties that civil rights laws are designed to safeguard.”

“Under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’), United must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with religious or medical reasons for needing accommodations,” the brief reads:

When a company ignores those requirements and engages in blatantly intentional discrimination, as United did here, these laws permit both injunctive and monetary relief. And, through Rule 23 of the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure, Congress provided class actions for groups of individuals subjected to the same and harmful policies to seek a collective remedy.

United Airlines did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

The brief was filed the same week House Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci in closed-door sessions; the focus, according to committee chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), was “pandemic-era” failures.

During his Monday testimony, Fauci reportedly claimed to not recall details surrounding “pertinent COVID-19 information or conversations” more than 100 times. On Tuesday, Fauci also reportedly admitted that the six-foot social distancing rule that emerged at the start of the coronavirus pandemic was actually based on nothing.

The case is Sambrano v. United Airlines, No. 4:21-cv-1074-P, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on X @thekat_hamilton.


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