Ex-Flight Attendant Accuses Southwest, Union of Religious Discrimination

EEOC complaint, lawsuit says she was fired for criticizing union on Facebook

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October 2, 2017

A veteran flight attendant at Southwest Airlines says she was fired from her job after speaking out about her faith and criticizing her union.

Charlene Carter of Aurora, Colo., filed suit against the company and union in a Texas federal court. She said her employment was terminated after she expressed her religious beliefs regarding abortion in Facebook posts and messages to union president Audrey Stone.

The suit alleges that Stone and the company's actions represented retaliation over her bid to stop paying "compelled fees for its political, ideological, and other nonbargaining spending, and to engage in other speech and activity in opposition to Local 556." Carter criticized the union for using employee dues to fly two dozen officials and flight attendants to attend January's Women's March protest.

She sent messages to Stone objecting to the use of union resources to participate in the march and included a link to a video depicting an abortion, as well as articles about the participation of a convicted terrorist in the March. She repeatedly said "Recall is going to happen," referring to a decertification campaign Carter supported and later sent an email in support of national right-to-work legislation.

"This [an abortion] is what you supported during your Paid Leave with others at the Women’s MARCH in DC," she said in a series of Facebook messages. "Wonder how this will be coded in the LM2 Financials … cause I know we paid for this along with your Despicable Party. … Can't wait for you to have to be just a regular flight attendant again."

The company fired her in March, citing her pro-life posts as "highly offensive in nature" and her messages to Stone as "harassing and inappropriate" and warned that her activism was in potential violation of its discrimination policy. Carter's suit says she is the only victim of discrimination in the case, pointing to several union members who were never punished or reinstated following death threats on social media.

"Southwest has subjected approximately thirteen supporters of the recall effort to termination of employment, suspension, repeated fact-findings, and/or other disciplinary measures in the last twelve months, many times at the request of Local 556 members and officials," the suit says.

Neither the union nor the airline returned requests for comment.

The suit says the posts and her criticism of Stone's leadership are protected by the Railway Labor Act because they were directly related to labor activities. She said it would have a chilling effect on workers rights to speak out.

"By firing Carter for her Facebook messages to President Stone and for related posts, Southwest violated Carter's rights under RLA … to vigorously exercise 'uninhibited, robust, and wide-open' free speech related to flight attendants' efforts to reorganize Local 556, to collectively bargain with Southwest, and to oppose the union's leadership and spending," the suit says. "Defendants had no valid justifications for their actions, and Carter exercised her speech in a manner that would not unduly interfere with any legitimate interest."

The suit seeks to reinstate Carter on the job and win her back pay with interest. Carter also filed a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the company and Transport Workers Union of America Local 556 of religious discrimination.

"The President of the union never told me that she objected to my Facebook messages … Southwest never warned me that using Facebook to protect life was inconsistent with its work rules," the complaint says. "My sincere religious beliefs require me to share with others that abortion is the taking of human life … my employer discriminated against me on the basis of my sincerely held religious belief and speech."

Carter received support from lawyers at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Foundation president Mark Mix called Stone's action an "abuse of power."

"Instead of respecting the rights of a worker they claimed to represent, union bosses used their monopoly over the workplace to have her fired for speaking out and questioning their forced unionism powers," Mix said.

Calls to Ms. Carter's Colorado home went unreturned.