Court Denies Bid to Toss Southwest Discrimination Suit

Ex-flight attendant says she was fired for criticizing union, airline's abortion stances

Southwest Airlines
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February 13, 2019

Former Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter's lawsuit against her employer and union for violating her religious liberty will continue after a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss the case.

Carter, a veteran flight attendant, is suing the airline and Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, alleging that she was unlawfully fired for voicing her religious beliefs and pro-life views. U.S. District Court Judge Karen Gren Scholer rejected several motions from the airline and union seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The Court finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently pleaded enough facts to state a plausible claim for retaliation against Local 556," she ruled. "Plaintiff has established 'more than a sheer possibility' that her religious beliefs and practice were a factor in Southwest's decision to terminate her."

The Court's decision was not a total victory for Carter. Scholer rejected her arguments that the union and airline violated the Constitution by discriminating against her religious rights, as neither is a government entity. The Court also dismissed Carter's charge that the union breached its duty of fair representation to her as a member, though the ruling left open the possibility of revisiting the allegation.

Carter said the ruling was a victory for religious liberty and is confident she will succeed.

"I'm glad that my case is moving forward, and am hopeful that employee freedoms to speak out against their union, free from any retaliation or discrimination, will win out in the end," Carter told the Washington Free Beacon.

A Southwest spokeswoman declined comment.

Carter said her troubles with the company began soon after she criticized the union for using employee dues to fly two dozen officials and flight attendants to attend the 2017 Women's March. She sent messages to union president Audrey Stone objecting to using membership dues to participate in the march, adding that she should be recalled from office. Her message included a pro-life message with a link to a video demonstrating an abortion. Southwest fired her shortly after the messages, saying her pro-life posts were "highly offensive in nature" and her messages to Stone were "harassing and inappropriate."

Carter is being represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. President Mark Mix said that the union's treatment of Carter reflects its priorities of organizational politics over the views of its actual members. It also demonstrates how quickly companies will turn their backs on workers in order to avoid the wrath of union officials.

"This case shows the extent to which union officials will wield their power over employers to violate the rights of the workers they claim to represent," Mix said in a statement. "Charlene Carter merely voiced her opinion and opposition to her money being used for causes she opposes, expressing her protected religious beliefs."

The union did respond to request for comment.

Scholer gave Carter 30 days to amend the complaint if she wished to pursue the charges of unfair representation.

Published under: Abortion , Unions