A Christian flight attendant has filed a complaint against her union, alleging that forced payment of union fees constitutes a violation of religious freedom.
Annlee Post, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, works as a flight attendant for Allegiant Air.
She filed a lawsuit against the Transport Workers Union of America Local 577 (TWU), claiming the union is violating her rights under the First Amendment, Railway Labor Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which describes itself as a “nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses,” assisted Post with free legal aid.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville, Post works under a collective bargaining agreement that requires her to join or financially support the union or lose her bidding privileges.
"Loss of bidding privileges affects her compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment," reads the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The Christian Post.
The complaint details how Post sent two written notices to the union — one on Mar. 23, 2019 and another on Sept. 18, 2019 — explaining the conflict between her religious beliefs and the requirement that she financially support the union. She offered to donate her union dues to a charity.
The lawsuit alleges that “although the Union knew about Ms. Post’s religious beliefs and failed to follow the procedure to lawfully demand fees, it demanded that Ms. Post pay union fees — from April 15, 2018 to March 15, 2019 — to the Union.”
“The Union has refused to accommodate Ms. Post,” the lawsuit continues. “It knew about Ms. Post’s religious beliefs and that she needed accommodation to avoid violating her religious beliefs. But instead of accommodating her, the Union has threatened to enforce the collective bargaining agreement and revoke her bidding privileges.”
The legal filing further argues that the union engaged in "religious harassment" and violated Title VII by demanding that the employee "violate her religious beliefs and pay it money to maintain her bidding privileges." The legal group argues that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers and union officials are required to accommodate sincere religious beliefs.
The complaint also cites the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 and the Railway Labor Act to maintain that Post should have been granted an accommodation.
The Janus decision dealt specifically with public unions and Allegiant Air is a private company. But Blaine Hutchison, a staff attorney at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, thinks that Post has a strong First Amendment case.
In an interview with CP, Hutchinson did not go into detail about why Post feels it is a violation of her beliefs to pay union fees. In the past, others have objected to how some unions have used union funding to support political causes that they may disagree with.
“The reason that we think the government’s involved, which implicates the Constitution, is because the government says that when employees vote in a union, that union then becomes the voice of all employees, becomes what’s called an exclusive representative,” Hutchinson explained.
“And so, an individual employee like Ms. Post loses her right to negotiate for herself, for her terms and conditions of employment. And the reason that the union can take away the voice of individual employees is because of The Railway Labor Act in this context.”
The lawyer stated that the Railway Labor Act allows the union to take away the voice of individual employees so that it can be the "exclusive bargaining representative" for employees within a unit.
"So, in the case, the unit would be flight attendant,” he added. “And so, Annlee can’t go to her employer and say these are the terms and conditions I would like. An individual employee couldn’t go to their employer and ask for different terms than union terms.”
While “the plain meaning of the RLA … only permits compulsory union fee agreements that require payment of union dues or fees ‘as a condition of continued employment,’” the lawsuit says that payment of union fees is not a condition for continued employment. But instead, union dues are “a condition of continued bidding privileges.”
Hutchinson explained that unions will frequently put religious individuals through an inquisition, where they ask them an entire series of questions that are often very inappropriate and "force them to prove their beliefs to be accommodated.”
Describing such inquiries as “improper and unlawful,” Hutchison shared sample questions union members with religious beliefs are often asked, such as “When did you become a believer?" He said sometimes employees are asked to cite Bible chapters and verses.”
“Annlee Post and others like her should not have to choose between privileges at work and their religious beliefs,” said National Right to Work President Mark Mix. “TWU bosses knew about Ms. Post’s objections but refused to accommodate them under longstanding EEOC law. Instead, [they are] threatening to take away her bidding privileges simply because she would not fund their organization in violation of her religious faith."
Mix stated that her case is a reminder of why "no worker should be forced to fund a union with which they disagree."
Post initially filed a charge in May 2019 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the union. However, the federal commission was not able to resolve her charge. However, the EEOC did issue Post a “Right to Sue” letter this past August.
The lawsuit concludes with a prayer for relief asking the court to “grant a permanent injunction enjoining the Union, its officers, successors, assigns, affiliates, and all persons in active concert or participation with it, from engaging in any employment practice that discriminates against Ms. Post based on her religious beliefs.”
Also, the complaint asks the court to “grant an injunction requiring the Union to inform all Allegiant Air flight attendants and all who the union represents that those with religious objections to the payment of union fees are entitled to an accommodation that frees them from paying any union fees."
Post also seeks damages for “emotional pain, suffering, and mental anguish" as well as compensation for attorneys' fees.