District Court ordered Southwest to announce that airline may not discriminate on basis of religion; airline instead effectively denied wrongdoing despite jury verdict

Dallas, TX (January 9, 2023) – With free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter is seeking sanctions against Southwest for flouting the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas’ decision in her case. Carter sued both Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556 and Southwest in 2017 for firing her over opposing the union’s political stances – a violation of both the Railway Labor Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The District Court in December 2022 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 following Carter’s victory in a July trial. The Court also mandated that Southwest reinstate Carter, ruling that only requiring Southwest and the TWU union to pay out future monetary damages to Carter “would complete Southwest’s unlawful scheme” of firing dissenting employees.

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 papers over the airline’s significant rights violations found by the Court. 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 the airline issued 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.

Flight Attendant Called Out Union Officials for Their Political Activities

As a Southwest employee, Carter joined TWU Local 556 in September 1996. A pro-life Christian, she resigned her membership in September 2013 after learning that her union dues were being used to promote causes that violate her conscience and have nothing to do with her work.

Carter resigned from union membership, but was still forced to pay fees to TWU Local 556 as a condition of her employment. State Right to Work laws do not protect her and her fellow flight attendants from forced union fees because airline and railway employees are covered by the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA allows union officials to have a worker fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees. But it does protect the rights of nonmembers of the union who are forced to associate with a union, including the rights to criticize the union and its leadership, and advocate for changing the union’s current leadership.

In January 2017, Carter learned that Audrey Stone, the union president, and other TWU Local 556 officials used union money to attend the “Women’s March on Washington D.C.,” which was sponsored by political groups she opposed, including Planned Parenthood.

Carter, a vocal critic of Stone and the union, took to social media to challenge Stone’s leadership and to express support for a recall effort that would remove Stone from power. Carter also sent Stone a message affirming her commitment to both the recall effort and a National Right to Work law after the union had sent an email to employees telling them to oppose Right to Work.

After Carter sent Stone that email, Southwest managers notified Carter that they needed to have a mandatory meeting as soon as possible about “Facebook posts they had seen.” During this meeting, Southwest presented Carter screenshots of her pro-life posts and messages and questioned why she made them.

Carter explained her religious beliefs and opposition to the union’s political activities. Carter said that, by participating in the Women’s March, President Stone and TWU Local 556 members purported to represent all Southwest flight attendants. Southwest authorities told Carter that President Stone claimed to be harassed by Carter’s messages. A week after this meeting, Southwest fired Carter.

Flight Attendant Wins Jury Verdict and District Court Decision

In 2017, Carter filed her federal lawsuit with help from Foundation staff attorneys to challenge the firing as an abuse of her rights, alleging she lost her job because of her religious beliefs, standing up to TWU Local 556 officials, and criticizing the union’s political activities and how it spent employees’ dues and fees. In July 2022, she won a federal jury verdict awarding millions of dollars in damages for Southwest’s and TWU’s violations of her rights, and in December 2022 the District Court issued its judgment in her favor.

“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,” commented National Right to Work Foundation 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.”

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 about 200 cases nationwide per year.

Posted on Jan 9, 2023 in News Releases