Despite objecting to union membership and dues on religious grounds, flight attendant was forced to pay union fees or lose input into work schedule
Knoxville, Tennessee (November 6, 2020) – Allegiant Air Flight attendant Annlee Post has filed a federal lawsuit against Transport Workers Union of America Local 577 (TWU) for violating her rights under the First Amendment, Railway Labor Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint was filed with free legal aid from staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
As the lawsuit explains, Post sent two letters informing TWU officials of her religious objections and offering to redirect her dues payments to a charity. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers and union officials are required to accommodate sincere religious beliefs. Courts have consistently ruled that employers and unions must allow religious objectors to redirect their compulsory union payments to charity.
In the 2015 EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch decision, the Supreme Court unanimously held that employees do not need to satisfy any requirements to merit accommodation. Thus, it did not matter in Abercrombie that the prospective employee never informed her prospective employer that she wore a headscarf for religious reasons. An employer or union’s belief that an employee might need accommodation is enough to trigger its duty to accommodate.
Post exceeded her legal requirements. She informed union officials in writing that her religious beliefs prevent her from associating with or supporting the union. Therefore, she requested accommodation. She sent two letters explaining her religious objections. TWU officials, however, refused to accommodate her.
With free legal aid from the Foundation, Post filed a charge in May 2019 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the union. The EEOC was ultimately unable to successfully resolve her charge, and in August 2020 issued a “Right to Sue” letter, at her request, allowing her to file a federal lawsuit to protect her rights.
Post initiated her lawsuit by filing a complaint last week in federal court. The complaint alleges TWU officials illegally discriminated against her by refusing to accommodate her and threatening to revoke her bidding privileges. Bidding privileges control a flight attendant’s ability to schedule trips, work, vacations, and nonworking days. Post asks the court to prevent TWU officials from discriminating against her, and other employees with religious objections, by requiring her to pay union fees that violate her sincere religious beliefs.
Post’s lawsuit also states that union officials violated the United States Constitution and the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The First and Fourteenth Amendments require unions to follow specific procedures to demand forced dues payments. The union did not follow those procedures here. Union officials did not provide notice of how the forced fee amount was calculated, an audit of the union’s financial records, nor did they provide notice of the procedure to challenge the fee amount.
The complaint also cites the Foundation’s Supreme Court victory in Janus v. AFSCME which held that unions and public employers cannot require employees to pay union dues or fees to get or keep a job. The complaint states that Ms. Post does not have to pay any fees to the union because of Janus. The Janus case is a monumental decision that protects employees’ free choice.
State Right to Work laws also protect employees and allow them to decide for themselves if they want to support a union with their money. Although Post lives and works in a Right to Work state – Tennessee – the RLA overrides state Right to Work laws and allows union officials to force union fees as a job condition.
The RLA allows employers and unions to require forced dues payments, but only “as a condition of continued employment.” The RLA does not permit forced dues payments based on any other condition – such as bidding privileges. Post’s Foundation staff attorneys argue that TWU’s monopoly bargaining agreement with Allegiant is invalid because it requires dues payments to maintain bidding privileges, whereas payment “as a condition of continued employment” is the only legal forced unionism agreement under the RLA.
“Annlee Post and others like her should not have to choose between privileges at work and their religious beliefs,” said National Right to Work President Mark Mix. “TWU bosses knew about Ms. Post’s objections, but refused to accommodate them under longstanding EEOC law, instead threatening to take away her bidding privileges, simply because she would not fund their organization in violation of her religious faith.”
“This case is a reminder why no worker should be forced to fund a union with which they disagree, no matter whether their objection is religious or for any other reason.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in around 250 cases nationwide per year.