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A federal judge has whittled down a lawsuit from Rockmond Dunbar, an original castmember on 911, accusing Disney and 20th Television of religious and racial discrimination for ousting him from the hit drama series after his requests for a COVID-19 vaccine exemption were denied. According to an order issued on Monday dismissing a trio of claims, Dunbar didn’t offer enough evidence that Disney’s vaccination policy discriminates against certain religious groups.
Disney and Fox were among the majority of studios that instituted a vaccine mandate for cast in addition to crewmembers who are in close proximity to them. The requirement led to numerous lawsuits from actors and staff who took issue with the studios refusing their exemption requests.
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Dunbar, among the highest-profile actors terminated for refusing the vaccine, sued Disney in February in a 55-page lawsuit that peeled back some of the secrecy around discussions between studios looking to safely proceed with productions and actors who requested exemptions. He alleged racial discrimination, pointing to his former employers refusing to provide him vaccine-related accommodations that were granted to non-Black castmembers allowing them to keep their jobs, in addition to claims for religious discrimination and retaliation.
In September 2021, Dunbar requested both a religious exemption as a follower of the Church of Universal Wisdom and a medical exemption based on an undisclosed disability, according to the complaint. Disney was allegedly skeptical of his request for a religious exemption, believing that the actor only pivoted to it because he thought it stood a better chance than being granted than a medical exemption, which was denied after his doctor was interviewed by a Disney-affiliated physician. Dunbar’s contract, which had over $1.3 million left to be paid out, was terminated two months later.
Among the 13 claims that Dunbar alleged in his complaint was a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act, arguing that Disney’s mandatory vaccination policy had a “disparate impact on Mr. Dunbar by forcing him to either abandon his religious obligation or forego [sic] employment.”
U.S. District Judge Golly Gee, however, tossed the claim because the actor failed to point to any other followers of the Church of Universal Wisdom who have been impacted by the vaccine mandate. “Although a plaintiff need not provide comprehensive statistical evidence at the pleading stage, he still must allege specific facts from which a reasonable inference can be drawn that an employment practice broadly impacts a certain group in an adverse manner—not merely a single person,” the order reads.
In a motion opposing dismissal of the complaint, Dunbar asked the court to take notice of two other lawsuits against Disney alleging religious discrimination in order to show that he’s not the only person being affected. The judge refused to take allegations in other cases into consideration. Even if she did, Gee found that they don’t help Dunbar’s case because the plaintiffs in those suits aren’t members of the Church of Universal Wisdom.
“Courts generally treat disparate impact claims as those affecting particular groups or faiths, including articulable sub-groups, but not all those who share a single common belief,” she wrote. “Although the Court recognizes that Dunbar is at an information disadvantage because of the confidential nature of the vaccine accommodations process, he must still plead facts that allow the Court to infer there are other members of his protected group who are also impacted by Defendant’s policy.”
Dunbar also advanced in his lawsuit allegations that Disney sabotaged a movie he was developing, The Rearing, by leaking information about his exemption requests. He claimed that the project’s investors retracted $500,000 in funding and multiple castmembers withdrew from being cast in the movie because of bad publicity associated with his vaccination status.
But Gee was unconvinced that Disney even knew the project existed. She rejected Dunbar’s argument that the studio learned of it from “Breakdown Services,” a website for TV series and films that are currently casting. “The speculation that because information about the Project was publicly available online, that Defendants actually saw this information, does not allow the Court to draw a reasonable inference of knowledge,” she wrote.
Gee allowed Dunbar the opportunity to fix the claim to include allegations that executive producers and writers on 911 had copies of the movie’s script and that an actor on the show was considering playing a lead role. Disney must still face 10 claims from Dunbar alleging religious and racial discrimination, retaliation and breach of contract, among other claims. The actor seeks back pay, compensation for past and future losses and punitive damages.
Dunbar maintains that he’s being blacklisted over his refusal to get the vaccine, spurred by leaks of religious and medical information about him. In response to “availability checks” for his services, Dunbar alleges that the inquiries routinely say that he’s been placed on a “do not hire” list.
Ousted General Hospital actor Ingo Rademacher and two former crewmembers on the show also sued ABC following their dismissals from the series for refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19.