photo by John Schreiber.

A United Airlines employee is suing the company, alleging he was put on extended leave in 2020 because he asked if he could wear a face shield on the job instead of a mask, which he maintains he cannot use because of a disability.

Robert Bezzina’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against United Airlines Inc. alleges retaliation, failure to engage in the interactive process and to provide reasonable accommodation and failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.

Bezzina seeks unspecified damages in the suit brought Monday. A UA representative could not be immediately reached.

Bezzina was hired in December 1992 as a ramp serviceman and was considered an essential employee during the coronavirus pandemic, the suit states. His duties included handling freight, mail and baggage, work that is done mostly outdoors and not in close contact with other employees, according to the suit.

From March 2020 through July of last year, Bezzina was allowed to work without a face mask, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made masks mandatory in May 2020 and most UA employees began wearing them, the suit states. Asked by a supervisor why he was not wearing a mask, Bezzina replied that a disability prevented him from doing so, according to the lawsuit, which does not specify the disability.

“Bezzina also explained to the supervisor that Mayor Garcetti stated that the mask mandate was for indoors and in the public,” the suit states. “Bezzina stated that since he worked under a covering outside or completely outside and was never in public because he was located in a restricted area, he did not fall under the required mask mandate. rules.” Last July, UA’s vice president of human resources and labor relations established a stricter mask policy that applied to the entire company, but Bezzina continued to work his 10-hour shifts without one due to his disability, the suit states.

That same month, Bezzina’s supervisor asked him why he was not wearing a mask, even though the plaintiff explained his position two months earlier, according to the suit. Bezzina offered to wear a face shield, but the supervisor said shields did not meet company requirements and that the plaintiff had to get a mask, the suit states.

Bezzina was sent home without pay for the rest of the day and the next day and told to start his scheduled vacation early, the suit states.

“Bezzina felt like he was being retaliated against because he informed his supervisors of his disability and had requested accommodation,” the suit states.

Bezzina has not been allowed to work since last July 29 even though he is willing to do so if allowed to wear a face shield instead of a mask, according to the suit, which alleges the UA regulation does not comply with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements that companies provide accommodations for those with disabilities.

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