Rockmond Dunbar has filed a lawsuit against Disney and 20th Television over his firing from the television series “9-1-1.” Dunbar — who played Michael Grant for five seasons on the Fox procedural, which is produced by the Disney-owned studio 20th Televsion — is unvaccinated against COVID. The actor said he filed paperwork to the studios seeking a religious and medical exemption for the COVID vaccine.
“In September 2021, [the studios] introduced a new policy mandating that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, but allowed actors like Mr. Dunbar to request an accommodation based on either medical or religious reasons,” the lawsuit reads. “Mr. Dunbar submitted paperwork seeking both a religious and a medical accommodation. … The producer of ‘9-1-1’ assured Mr. Dunbar that he wanted him to remain with the show and that they could adjust his schedule to accommodate Mr. Dunbar’s need to avoid obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine.”
After asking for a religious and medical COVID vaccine exemption, Dunbar said he was barred from set, despite producers allegedly telling him that his character’s storyline would be left open so that he could possibly return in the future. The performer also noted that he was the only Black male lead on the TV show. The lawsuit notes that other unvaccinated “9-1-1” cast and crew members were given exemptions, though “none sought a religious exemption and none were Black.”
“The administrators who work for [the studios] never took Mr. Dunbar’s requests for accommodations seriously,” the lawsuit states. “They openly mocked his beliefs and proceeded to deny Mr. Dunbar his accommodations based on nothing more than rank hearsay and assumptions. Defendants refused to believe Mr. Dunbar’s doctor’s recommendation, and they refused to engage with Mr. Dunbar in any meaningful interactive communication regarding his religious beliefs.”
According to Dunbar, the studios then terminated his employment agreements and refused to pay him the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are still owed to him. The actor also said the studios “wrongfully leaked negative information” about his firing to the media to “deliberately make it sound” like he was an anti-vaxxer. As a result, Dunbar has “became persona non grata in his industry.”
20th Television said in a statement, “To ensure safe working environments at our productions we have implemented a mandatory vaccination confirmation process. While we will not comment on any one individual, each request for exemption is given a thorough review and we grant accommodations consistent with our legal obligations. There are no differences in our process or decision-making based on an employee’s race.”
Variety has reached out to Disney for comment.
An earlier version of this story misstated that Dunbar is also suing the 20th Century Fox studio, as stated by the lawsuit — but that no longer exists.
Additional reporting by Emily Longeretta.