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Judge orders Southwest Airlines to reinstate Christian flight attendant fired over pro-life views

Southwest Airlines
Passengers check in for a Southwest Airlines Co. flight inside Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 10, 2022. |

A federal court has ordered Southwest Airlines to reinstate a flight attendant the company terminated after she objected to the use of union dues to fund political causes that go against her deeply held beliefs.

In a statement released Wednesday, the National Right to Work Legal Foundation announced that the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas ordered Southwest Airlines to rehire Charlene Carter, a flight attendant the company terminated in March 2017. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which describes itself as “a nonprofit, charitable organization” working to “eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism,” provided Carter with free legal representation. 

“Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn’t fly at all with Southwest in this case,” stated the decision, as quoted by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation.

“The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas this week ordered Southwest and the union to give Carter the maximum amount of compensatory and punitive damages permitted under federal law, plus back-pay, and other forms of relief that a jury originally awarded following Carter’s victory in a July trial,” the advocacy group added.

Over the summer, a jury awarded Carter $5.1 million in damages after determining that the airline and the Transportation Workers Union of America chapter she belonged to unlawfully terminated her for objecting to the use of union dues to transport union officials to the far-left Women’s March. Carter, a devout Christian, did not approve of the use of her union dues to fund the march in Washington, D.C., in January 2017.

Primarily organized to express opposition to then-President Donald Trump, the Women’s March was sponsored in part by Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S. Abortion and the public funding of it stand in direct opposition to Carter’s beliefs as a Christian. 

Carter objected to the use of union dues to fund the Women’s March in social media posts. After sending an email to Union President Audrey Stone expressing support for a national Right to Work bill, Carter was ordered to attend a meeting with Southwest leadership to discuss “Facebook posts they had seen.”

Southwest deemed her social media posts highlighting her pro-life beliefs as a form of harassment. A week after Carter's meeting with superiors, the company terminated her.

Carter, who joined the Transport Union Workers of America’s Local 556 union in September 1996, resigned her membership 17 years later after discovering that her union dues funded causes that conflicted with her deeply held religious beliefs as a pro-life Christian. She continued to work for Southwest after opting out of union membership but still had to pay union dues because her position as a flight attendant subjected her to the requirements of the federal Railway Labor Act.

The Railway Labor Act supersedes state-level Right to Work laws that prevent employees from having to pay union dues as a condition of employment and prohibit the termination of employees for declining to pay union dues or fees. At the same time, it protects the rights of non-union members required to pay union dues to criticize the union and its leadership, as Carter did in social media posts, and advocate for a change in union leadership.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix reacted to the latest developments in the Carter case in a statement. “Southwest and TWU union officials made Ms. Carter pay an unconscionable price because she decided to speak out against the political activities of union officials in accordance with her deeply held religious beliefs. This decision vindicates Ms. Carter’s rights — but it’s also a stark reminder of the retribution that union officials will mete out against employees who refuse to toe the union line,” he said.

“Ms. Carter’s victory should prompt nationwide scrutiny of union bosses’ coercive, government-granted powers over workers, especially in the airline and rail industries. Even after her victory, she and her colleagues at Southwest and other airlines under union control are forced, as per the Railway Labor Act, to pay money to union officials just to keep their jobs,” he added.

The National Right to Work Legal Foundation elaborated on the implications of the district court’s ruling: “This week’s decision, in addition to awarding reinstatement, back-pay, prejudgment interest, and damages to Carter, also hits the TWU union and Southwest with injunctions forbidding them from discriminating against flight attendants for their religious beliefs and from failing to accommodate religious objectors.

“The decision also explicitly prohibits Southwest and the union from discriminating against Carter for exercising her rights under the RLA,” the advocacy group clarified. “Carter may, under the RLA, object to the forced payment of the part of dues used for political and other lawfully nonchargeable union expenses, pursuant to the National Right to Work Foundation’s U.S. Supreme Court victory in Ellis v. Railway Clerks (1984).” 

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

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