TWU union and Southwest retaliated against employee for speaking out against political stances and activities of union leadership that violated her religious beliefs
Dallas, TX (July 14, 2022) – Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter has just prevailed in her federal lawsuit in which she charged the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556 union and Southwest for illegally firing her for her religious opposition to abortion. She received free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
Today a federal district court jury returned a verdict that found in Carter’s favor in all counts of the lawsuit. The jury awarded Carter $5.1 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages against TWU and Southwest for their respective role in her unlawful termination.
Following the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas’ announcement of a verdict in the case, National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix issued the following statement about Carter’s victory:
“This long overdue verdict vindicates Ms. Carter’s fundamental right to dissent from the causes and ideas that TWU union officials – who claim to ‘represent’ Southwest flight attendants – support while forcing workers to bankroll their activities. No American worker should have to fear termination, intimidation, or any other reprisal merely for speaking out against having their own money spent, purportedly in their name, to promote an agenda they find abhorrent.
“Even with this basic right under the Railway Labor Act successfully defended, however, TWU union officials still enjoy the enormous government-granted privilege of being able to force airline workers to financially subsidize their activities as a condition of employment. While we’re proud to stand with Ms. Carter and are pleased by the verdict, there ultimately should be no place in American labor law for compelling workers to fund a private organization that violates their core beliefs.”
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, such as abortion.
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 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 employees to remain nonmembers of the union, 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 dues 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 sending 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.
Religious Discrimination Suit Already Weathered Early Attack from Southwest and Union
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.
Before the District Court’s decision, a federal judge blocked attempts to shut down the case early by Southwest and TWU. Both defendants filed motions for summary judgment, with Southwest claiming that Carter lacked a “private right of action” to enforce her rights under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and that her case concerned only a “minor” dispute over interpretation of the union contract that is outside the jurisdiction of the District Court. District Court Judge Brantley Starr rejected all those motions, ruling that “genuine disputes of material fact” precluded summary judgment and that a jury should decide those disputes.
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.