Back in November, fans of 9-1-1 were shocked when Rockmond Dunbar’s Michael suddenly moved away, signaling the actor’s exit from the series. As previously reported by The Root, Dunbar was fired from the FOX drama after his medical and religious requests for exemption to get the COVID-19 vaccine were denied. Now, Variety is reporting that Dunbar is suing Disney and 20th Television, the studios behind 9-1-1, over his firing. While the actor is unvaccinated against COVID-19, he is reportedly not anti-vaxx. Dunbar played Michael Grant, the ex-husband of Angela Bassett’s Athena, for five seasons.
“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.”
Dunbar also claims that after the studio fired him, it “refused to pay him the hundreds of thousands of dollars” he is owed. He also says the studio “wrongfully leaked negative information” so he would be painted as an anti-vaxxer, leading to him becoming “persona non grata in his industry.”
“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.”
Dunbar, who is also known for his work on Prison Break and Soul Food, noted that other 9-1-1 cast and crew did receive vaccine exemptions, but “none sought a religious exemption and none were Black.”
20th Television responded to the lawsuit with the following 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.”
Since Dunbar is close with 9-1-1 executive producer Tim Minear, Michael’s story was left open in case this situation is worked out and the actor is able to return to the series.