A Southwest Airlines flight attendant is seeking sanctions against the airline, saying it's flouting the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas' decision in her case.
Charlene Carter's latest motion calls on the District Court to impose sanctions against Southwest for releasing a misleading "Recent Court Decision" notice to its roughly 17,000 flight attendants, arguing that the notice minimizes the airline's significant rights violations found by the Court.
Carter is being represented by attorneys with the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTW).
The notice states that Southwest "does not discriminate" against its employees based on religious belief, despite the Court's finding that Southwest did discriminate against Carter on religious grounds. The motion also says Southwest's notice fails to make a court-ordered announcement that the airline is forbidden from discriminating in the future.
Foundation attorneys also contend that an "Inflight Information On The Go" memo issued by the airline chills flight attendants' religious expression, beliefs, and practices. The memo implies that Southwest will be the final arbiter of what kind of religious speech is acceptable in the workplace, while characterizing Carter's speech challenging the TWU union's political positions as "inappropriate, harassing, and offensive," and thus worthy of punishment.
The motion asks the District Court to find the airline in contempt so it can issue monetary sanctions against Southwest, and further order the airline to immediately issue corrective notices.
"First, Southwest Airlines violated Charlene Carter's rights by firing her at the union's behest. Now, the airline is doubling down by misleading other workers about its wrongdoing in defiance of a federal court order," said NRTW President Mark Mix. "Foundation attorneys will continue to defend Ms. Carter's rights, and will ensure that Southwest's attempts to dodge the requirements of the decision in her favor will not go unopposed."
CBN News reached out to Southwest Airlines for comment. In an email to CBN News, the airline said it has filed a response to Carter's motion, but had no further comment on the pending litigation. Southwest has filed an appeal of the district court's decision in the case.
As CBN News reported in December, the federal court ordered Southwest and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to give Carter her job back after she was allegedly fired over her stance on abortion.
After a five-year legal battle, Carter was awarded $5.3 million in a lawsuit that she filed back in 2017. She was terminated by the airline company for posting her religious opposition to abortion on social media.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ordered Southwest and the union to give Carter the maximum amount of compensatory and punitive damages permitted under federal law, plus back pay, and other forms of relief that a jury originally awarded her in July.
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U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr then reduced the jury's original $5.3 million in damages to $810,180, which includes $150,000 in back pay, according to The Dallas Morning News. This is because federal discrimination law limits damages that companies can pay in such cases.
"Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn't fly at all with Southwest in this case," the NRTW quoted the judge's decision in a press release.
According to the advocacy group, the court rejected the union and airline arguments and also ordered that Carter should be fully reinstated as a flight attendant at Southwest, writing, "Southwest may 'wanna get away' from Carter because she might continue to express her beliefs, but the jury found that Southwest unlawfully terminated Carter for her protected expressions." If only "front pay," or what she would be making in wages until she finds a new job, is awarded, the Court reasoned, "the Court would complete Southwest's unlawful scheme" of firing dissenting employees.
Resigned Union Membership, but Still Forced to Pay Dues to Remain Employed
As CBN News also reported, Carter joined the union in September 1996 but resigned from her membership in September 2013. She had discovered that her religious views did not align with those of the union on topics such as abortion, according to the NRTW.
Even though she had ended her membership, Carter was still forced to pay fees to TWU Local 556 as a condition of her employment.
In January 2017, Carter learned that TWU Local 556 president Audrey Stone, and other officials, had used union money to attend the Women's March on Washington, D.C., which endorses abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
The flight attendant denounced the union's attendance at the event on social media and sent messages to Stone about a recall effort against her.
Southwest managers met with Stone regarding her social media posts and questioned why she posted them.
Southwest authorities claimed that Stone considered the social media comments to be a form of harassment toward her, and the airline company subsequently terminated Carter's employment.
According to NRTW, the court's decision, in addition to awarding reinstatement, back-pay, prejudgment interest, and damages to Carter, also hits the TWU union and Southwest with injunctions forbidding them from discriminating against flight attendants for their religious beliefs and from failing to accommodate religious objectors.
The decision also explicitly prohibits Southwest and the union from discriminating against Carter for exercising her rights. Carter may object to the forced payment of the part of dues used for political and other lawfully nonchargeable union expenses, pursuant to the National Right to Work Foundation's U.S. Supreme Court victory in Ellis v. Railway Clerks (1984).
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