Hawaiian Airlines’ COVID vaccine mandate challenge set for trial
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser March 1, 2023
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(Tribune News Service) — Eight current and former Hawaiian Airlines employees suing the company for allegedly violating their right to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine for medical or religious reasons were given a trial date Tuesday and asked to organize with related cases making similar claims.
Eight current and former Hawaiian Airlines employees suing the company for allegedly violating their right to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine for medical or religious reasons were given a trial date Tuesday and asked to organize with related cases making similar claims.
There are 12 total civil actions, involving 15 active and former workers, pending against the airline.
On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Rom A. Trader urged the parties to collaborate on their efforts to resolve the matter. A trial for a civil action filed Dec. 22 is set for June 3, 2024, at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Jill A. Otake.
“Our clients want to redress the wrongs done to them by Hawaiian Airlines, “ said James Hochberg, attorney for nine current and former employees, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “They are all pretty much employment law, Title VII violations that Hawaiian needs to answer for. It’s federal statute.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
Hochberg represents Riki O’Hailpin, a flight attendant based out of Honolulu ; Nina Arizumi, a former flight attendant ; Robert Espinosa, a first officer ; Erwin Young, a former lead aircraft technician at Daniel K. International Airport ; Puanani Badiang, a former management instructor for the corporate offices of Hawaiian Airlines in Honolulu ; Sabrina Franks, a former customer service agent ; Ronald Lum, a former captain ; and Brandee Aukai, a flight attendant based out of Honolulu.
Hawaiian’s attorney, Paul Alston, declined comment on pending litigation. The deadline to file motions for leave to join additional parties or to amend the pleadings is Aug. 8.
“Parties encouraged to confer with counsel in related cases to determine whether some form of case management may be appropriate. At the very least, the Court expects the parties in all cases to discuss coordination of certain core discovery requests (documents, interrogatories and 30 (b )(6 ) depositions ) to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness, where possible, “ read some of the minutes of Tuesday’s hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Rom A. Trader.
In a Feb. 20 scheduling conference statement, Hochberg wrote that his clients “were denied—formally or functionally—religious and /or medical accommodations “ from Hawaiian’s mandate that all employees receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines. The current and former employees “hold sincere religious beliefs and medical conditions “ that precluded them from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. They were “required to decide whether they were going to take the vaccine or be terminated.”
“That decision haunted not just Plaintiffs, but others similarly situated who were forced into an impossible choice between their jobs, on one hand, and their health and /or faith, on the other hand, “ read the statement.
Hawaiian’s “compulsory vaccination policy “ resulted in a “statistically significant disparity of resulting adverse employment action between religious employees and secular employees.”
“In other words, the vaccination policy adversely impacted religious employees at statistically significant rates, “ read the statement.
Hochberg’s clients also contend that they “engaged in protected activity when they requested religious accommodations from Hawaiian’s vaccine mandate.”
In one of the 11 other related cased mentioned in Tuesday’s hearing, former flight attendant Shanah A. Brody sued the airline Nov. 10 alleging that she was hired on Feb. 11, 2000, and on Sept. 30, 2021, she submitted her COVID-19 Vaccination Religious Accommodation Request Form.
On Oct. 14, 2021, Hawaiian denied her request for religious exemption, and she “refused “ to apply for the 12-month unpaid leave of absence, according to the complaint. Then, on Dec. 14, 2021, Hawaiian terminated her employment.
“Not only did Hawaiian resort to coercion and intimidation to force the vaccine mandate down the employees’ proverbial throats, Hawaiian trampled on the rights of employees who sought exemptions by denying nearly every application for exemptions regardless of the employee’s religious belief or medical reason not to get the vaccine, “ read a complaint filed by the employee’s attorneys Michael Green and Peter C. Hsieh. “Worse, after it ended its Vaccine Mandate in September 2022, Hawaiian allowed some unvaccinated employees (most, if not all, with less seniority than Plaintiff ) to get their jobs back without penalty while others were told they had to reapply without credit for their seniority.”
Hawaiian Airlines has said 96 % of its employees got vaccinated by the Jan. 5, 2022, deadline and that fewer than 200 workers chose to take leave or received a reasonable accommodation. Those employees were invited back to the company.
Some of the current and former employees who filed civil complaints previously had their allegations dismissed March 18 because of pending claims before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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