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Flight attendant fired for pro-life activism receives $5.1M in damages

Flight attendant fired after criticizing union's support for Women's March receives $5.1M in damages

Southwest Airlines
Unsplash/Miguel Ángel Sanz

A flight attendant who alleges she was fired from her position due to her vocal religious opposition to abortion and union dues being used to support abortion-related causes has won a $5.1 million federal lawsuit against her former employer and union.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation announced in a statement Thursday that Charlene Carter, a pro-life Christian who formerly worked as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, prevailed in her religious discrimination lawsuit with the airline and the Transportation Workers Union of America.

Carter will receive $5.1 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages against TWU and Southwest as a jury deemed that both organizations played a role in an unlawful termination. 

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which describes itself as "a nonprofit, charitable organization" working to "eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism," provided Carter with free legal representation.

"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," said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix.

"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."

The verdict from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas comes nearly five years after Carter filed a lawsuit against the TWU of America and Southwest Airlines following her termination after more than 20 years of service.

While Carter joined the Transport Union Workers of America's Local 556 union in September 1996, she resigned her membership in September 2013 upon discovering that her union dues were funding causes that contradicted her religious beliefs as a pro-life Christian. 

However, Carter was still forced to pay union dues even though she did not belong to the union because the airline and railway employees are subject to the federal Railway Labor Act requirements.

The Railway Labor Act supersedes state-level Right to Work laws that prevent employees from having to pay union fees as a condition of employment and permits the termination of employees for refusal to pay union dues or fees.

At the same time, the Railway Labor Act allows employees to refrain from joining a union, criticize union leadership and lobby for a change in the union leadership.

In the time between her 2013 withdrawal from the union and her termination, Carter repeatedly shared her concerns about Local 556's political stances with union leadership.

In January 2017, Carter learned that union dues were probably used to attend the "Women's March on Washington DC," which advocated for legal abortion and funding for America's largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood. Abortion and the funding of the practice stand in direct contradiction to Carter's religious beliefs.

Carter made clear her opposition to using union dues to support the Women's March in several Facebook groups for Southwest flight attendants and in a message to Local 556 President Audrey Stone.

When Carter sent another email to Stone expressing support for a National Right to Work bill, Carter was ordered to attend a meeting with Southwest leadership to discuss "Facebook postings they had seen."

In those posts, Carter expressed her pro-life beliefs. The lawsuit claims that superiors at Southwest characterized her social media postings as a form of harassment and fired her for violating the company's "Workplace Bullying and Hazing Policy" and its "Social Media Policy" by posting content deemed "highly offensive in nature."

In May, a federal judge rejected the attempt from Southwest and the Transportation Union Workers of America to dismiss the lawsuit. The organizations argued that Carter did not have a "private right of action" to enforce her rights under the Railway Labor Act and characterized her case as a "minor" dispute that the district court did not have jurisdiction over.

"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," Mix added. "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."

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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