“Pro-Life” Ex-Southwest Flight Attendant Wins Lawsuit, Awarded $5.3 Million

“Pro-Life” Ex-Southwest Flight Attendant Wins Lawsuit, Awarded $5.3 Million

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On Thursday, a former Southwest Airlines flight attendant won a $5.3 million jury verdict against the airline and union, after she was fired for her use of social media to express her anti-abortion stance.

Southwest flight attendant fired for social media use & harassment

Charlene Carter worked as a Southwest Airlines flight attendant for more than 20 years, from 1996 until 2017. Carter was fired from the airline in March 2017, on the basis of violating the company’s policies on bullying and the use of social media.

This issue arose over Carter’s disagreement with the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556, which is the union she paid dues to. She had long had disagreements with the union, and in 2013 she even “resigned” from the union, after realizing her beliefs didn’t align with those of the union. She was still required to continue paying dues as a condition of her employment, though.

Fast forward to early 2017:

  • Carter complained to the union president about flight attendants going to a march in Washington DC, where more than half a million people protested former President Trump’s position on abortion and other issues
  • Carter wasn’t happy that union dues were being used to attend an anti-abortion rally, and wasn’t happy that flight attendants who wanted to attend were being granted schedule adjustments
  • Carter sent Facebook messages, including some with videos of alleged aborted fetuses, to Audrey Stone, who was the union president at the time
  • Carter called Stone “despicable” and said she would be voted out of office

Stone reported Carter to the company, and Southwest Airlines ended up firing Carter for violating the company’s policies on bullying and the use of social media. Southwest said her Facebook posts (in which she could be identified as a Southwest employee) were “highly offensive,” and that her private messages were harassing.

Carter thought that wasn’t fair, and has been pursuing legal action against the airline and union for the past five years.

Jury sides with flight attendant

A federal jury in Texas has sided with the former Southwest flight attendant, arguing that she was unlawfully discriminated against for her sincerely held religious beliefs. Furthermore, the jury found that the union did not fairly represent her and retaliated against her for expressing her views.

If this stands, Carter will be awarded $5.3 million, including $4.15 million from Southwest Airlines and $1.15 million from Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556. This consists primarily of punitive damages, but also consists of some back pay from the airline.

Both the airline and union plan to appeal this decision. Southwest said in a statement that the airline “has a demonstrated history of supporting employees’ rights to express their opinions when done in a respectful manner,” while a lawyer for the union argued that the “factual evidence indicates an outcome different from the recent decision of the jury, which may have misunderstood the court’s charge.”

Meanwhile Carter said the following in a statement:

“Today is a victory for freedom of speech and religious beliefs. Flight attendants should have a voice and nobody should be able to retaliate against a flight attendant for engaging in protected speech against her union. I am so humbled and thankful for today’s decision and for everyone who’s supported me these past five years, including the National Right to Work Foundation.”

Bottom line

After a roughly five year legal battle, a former Southwest flight attendant has been awarded damages over being fired from the airline. Southwest claims that the flight attendant violated the company’s social media policy with her public and offensive anti-abortion posts, and she was also accused of harassing the union president, after union dues were used to attend a rally in Washington DC.

Obviously abortion has become an even hotter topic following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, so I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole in this context, or the concept of “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

I guess the one thing I’m curious about is if you voluntarily leave the union (even though you continue to have to pay dues), does the union have to continue representing you? If the union does, then what are the practical implications of leaving the union?

I’m curious to see if an appeal is successful here, or if this person and her lawyers are really going to walk away with $5+ million.

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  1. veggiemite Guest

    The amount of people here defending a flight attendant's "right" to send disgusting videos of alleged aborted fetuses (which were probably just gore from somewhere else, but still) to a union rep is insane. How anyone can think that's appropriate at work is astounding. I'm a vegetarian - imagine if I sent gory videos of animals being slaughtered in pools of blood to colleagues when they told me they were holding a BBQ. I'd be...

    The amount of people here defending a flight attendant's "right" to send disgusting videos of alleged aborted fetuses (which were probably just gore from somewhere else, but still) to a union rep is insane. How anyone can think that's appropriate at work is astounding. I'm a vegetarian - imagine if I sent gory videos of animals being slaughtered in pools of blood to colleagues when they told me they were holding a BBQ. I'd be rightly fired for social media misuse, as she was

  2. Dave Guest

    Good for her. Companies have been crushing opinions that go against the woke mob and it is about time they pay for it. Unions should stop the political nonsense and stick to working for the employees.

  3. Ro Guest

    The bully here is the Unions. Using her money to promote a political agenda that an airline flight attendant union has no business using member dues to support. Good for her standing up to the real bully on this story, and solid win for free speech rights. Something the left fears the most.

  4. schar Guest

    absolutely amazing news. What a shameful and disgusting firing from Southwest, discriminating against someone's pro life beliefs. The flight attendant has every right for her stance, and is justified in her complaints. Bravo!

  5. Max G Guest

    Specifically pertaining to Airline employees.
    If you are not a member, you are still fully covered by the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated between your employer and the union, and the union is obligated to represent you. Any benefits that are provided to you by your employer pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement (e.g., wages, seniority, vacations, pensions, health insurance) are not affected by your nonmembership. (If the union offers some "members-only" benefits,...

    Specifically pertaining to Airline employees.
    If you are not a member, you are still fully covered by the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated between your employer and the union, and the union is obligated to represent you. Any benefits that are provided to you by your employer pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement (e.g., wages, seniority, vacations, pensions, health insurance) are not affected by your nonmembership. (If the union offers some "members-only" benefits, you might be excluded from receiving those.)

  6. Max G Guest

    This is the legal basis for it.
    In Communications Workers of America v. Beck (1988) the Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) restricted unions from collecting dues for political activities if a union member chooses to opt out. The required dues can only be used for collective-bargaining and other representational activities.

  7. Chris Guest

    The “pro-life” quotation marks are gratuitous and petty

  8. Dale Douglas Guest

    Good for her. Companies need to remember that we have first amendment rights in this country whether they agree or disagree with what's being said. I wish she would have gotten a much larger settlement to send a message every employer would hear.

  9. Jesse Member

    Ah, America. The comments show that it is in fact the "Divided States of Embarrassment" (quote credit: Eminem). I moved away from the US a decade ago. Got tired of the petty bickering and inability of people to act civil towards others who believe differently than themselves. Constant insults between far right imbeciles and far left lunatics. US society is tearing itself apart from the inside, and it is so sad to watch.

    1. Surrycin Guest

      Jesse, you are so right. I am also just 10 days away from also leaving the US for another country. Cannot wait!

  10. Alan Guest

    I don't understand why if you leave you still have to pay membership fees?! Certainly in the UK it's voluntary to join a union so if you don't like it then don't join or leave!

  11. CMorgan Guest

    I hope she gets the money. This was a huge overstep on the unions part and a poor choice by SW to fire this employee. The union and airline should never have taken a stance either way on this issue. Period!

  12. T- Guest

    Yikes. Of course our country is being pulled hard by the religious zealots & Supreme Court that thinks they can start taking away rights. This Neo Fasisim Theocracy is going to put America back to 1953 if they have there way. So much for "less government" when they now dictate what happens in a person's body. Way to go Republicans!!! We are over you.

  13. Pam Thicket Guest

    It is important to look at who is funding her lawyer bills.

  14. Anti bias Guest

    “Pro abortion” airline fires employee.
    Is another possible headline for this story

  15. Loree Guest

    Excellent. So glad they have to pay. Don't be stupid...don't appeal. You owe the money just pay up.

  16. POV Guest

    So are you saying every judgment is walking away with or just the ones you don’t agree with?

  17. dander Guest

    I see her point about the unions and the rules. Years ago my wife's union got people paid to go protest courtesy of the company. This is huge overreach. Unions can't help people with legit issues, but they can use funds for their pet activities

  18. FlyerDon Guest

    “A federal jury in Texas”. Say no more.

  19. Eric Guest

    You can reassign from being a union member, and not actively participate In votes, union positions etc.
    However, you will continue to benefit from the union negotiations with management , as you will receive equal Pau and benefits as union members, therefore, you are obligated to continue paying dues.

  20. D. Gremillon Guest

    I will not fly Southwest. It is a cattle car service. No business class to speak of. Filled with loud bohemians in gym shorts and doo rags. I am too old to put up with this. I drive my SUV if travelling in the U.S. and fly business class on points if going to Europe. When I land in Europe I cannot wait to get off the plane and away from the hoi-polloi. Returning to...

    I will not fly Southwest. It is a cattle car service. No business class to speak of. Filled with loud bohemians in gym shorts and doo rags. I am too old to put up with this. I drive my SUV if travelling in the U.S. and fly business class on points if going to Europe. When I land in Europe I cannot wait to get off the plane and away from the hoi-polloi. Returning to the unciviled U.S. and U.S. airlines is a real chore. I recommend earplugs and horse blinders until you arrive in your home.

    1. henare Diamond

      We're all so very, very proud of you!

    2. John Guest

      Ok to sum it up: you're an arrogant elitist to put it mildly, correct?

    3. KK13 Guest

      I thought that was a sarcasm, and he was mocking… ?

    4. Pam Thicket Guest

      My friends and I would never take Southwest. Too embarassing.

  21. ChadMC Guest

    I guess it's ok to bully and harass while in Texas as the jury says so. Pretty sad. Yeah of course she should have her say, but bullying people who don't agree with her and harassing those people while representing Southwest is definitely worth terminating employment over. Nothing to do with her beliefs, but harassment is harassment.

    1. Pj Guest

      The way I read this is she was forced to pay Union dues for years to a union she resigned from that used her dues to support something she felt at the very core was essentially murder. Did she do too far? Yes probably her message to the Union pres was offensive. But so was the Union in making her pay for something she got no value out of and stifled her right to free...

      The way I read this is she was forced to pay Union dues for years to a union she resigned from that used her dues to support something she felt at the very core was essentially murder. Did she do too far? Yes probably her message to the Union pres was offensive. But so was the Union in making her pay for something she got no value out of and stifled her right to free speech. You don’t have to agree with her stance on abortion to understand how you (anyone) would feel being forced to pay for something you disagree with and get no vote

  22. Anne wilson Guest

    I hope southwest and the union lose their appeal. Joining a group that you don't agree with should never be mandatory

  23. PaulS87 Guest

    Generally, people are not anti-life. We're all pro-life. These people are anti-abortion.

    1. Stan Guest

      Whatever happened to “righteous among the nations.” Fifty years ago people we’re honored for saving people’s lives.

  24. warren trout Guest

    Freedom of speech isn't only for the left.

    1. Pam Thicket Guest

      Yes, but for some reason, when the right exercises freedom of speech, it is incredibly annoying. Freedom of speech also doesn't mean you get to harass your colleagues with zero penalties.

  25. Mike1977 Guest

    I’m in a union and my understanding is that since the Janus v. AMFCME 2018 decision by the Supreme Court, you can choose to be in a union or not. If you choose no, you do not pay dues and they will give you minimal legal support, if any. I wonder if this case began before the Janus ruling, in which case now she’d opt out if paying dues and have virtually no support. I...

    I’m in a union and my understanding is that since the Janus v. AMFCME 2018 decision by the Supreme Court, you can choose to be in a union or not. If you choose no, you do not pay dues and they will give you minimal legal support, if any. I wonder if this case began before the Janus ruling, in which case now she’d opt out if paying dues and have virtually no support. I think maybe a union rep would be present for an initial hearing but after that she’d be on her own, legal fees and all. The union dues goes towards legal fees and representation, among many other things. Not sure if the ruling applies here, since the Janus case was targeted towards public employees

    1. Josh G Guest

      The Janus case applies to workers covered under the national labor relations act (NLRA), not the railway labor act (RLA). Same reason airline employees in right to work states like FL, GA, TX, etc must pay agency fees if they become a dues objector.

  26. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Unions exist to promote the economic interests of the employees they represent but do get involved in social issues which they can do - but just cannot use the money of people that do not want to fund those activities.
    The real villain is Southwest, not the union. Southwest knows full well what employees are allowed to do and not do.
    It is high time that there is a clear wall between what...

    Unions exist to promote the economic interests of the employees they represent but do get involved in social issues which they can do - but just cannot use the money of people that do not want to fund those activities.
    The real villain is Southwest, not the union. Southwest knows full well what employees are allowed to do and not do.
    It is high time that there is a clear wall between what people do on their personal time and in their own contacts and what they do on the job.
    If she grabbed the microphone on the plane and gave her opinions about social issues, Southwest has a reason to be interested. What she or anyone else does on their own personal time or with their own colleages or the union is not a company's business.

    There need to be more of these types of suits - regardless of the issue.

    The idea that Americans have to conform to a single mindset - regardless of which side - is against every founding principle of the US.

    1. Chris_ Member

      Are you serious? If I have a colleague that harasses me, even if it's when they are off the clock, I definitely expect my employer to shut that down. Harassment between colleagues is unacceptable, regardless of when it takes place.

    2. Shelley Williams Guest

      She messaged the union president about an activity using union dues which the flight attendant sincerely disagreed with, based on her religious beliefs. I believe as an elected official you no longer are considered just an coworker or employee. You are a public figure making decisions about the use of funds. That is an entirely different issue. Not harassment IMO. Informative and factual- abortion is disgusting and ending an innocent life, and the President of...

      She messaged the union president about an activity using union dues which the flight attendant sincerely disagreed with, based on her religious beliefs. I believe as an elected official you no longer are considered just an coworker or employee. You are a public figure making decisions about the use of funds. That is an entirely different issue. Not harassment IMO. Informative and factual- abortion is disgusting and ending an innocent life, and the President of the union will answer to her constituents for her use of union funds in supporting protests against the right to life people within her constituents. Good call, jury in Texas!

    3. John Guest

      Chris. There's a thing called the police. Call them if you feel harassed. I CRINGE that you actually think employers should be your personal 24 hour nanny/bodyguard. If it's during work, let the company handle it. Outside of work, nobody should have to hold your hand while you pee pee! Be an adult. Not a baby.

  27. B P Guest

    Seems like an employee has a first amendment right to voice her opinion and was fired for that. Excellent verdict.

    1. K L Guest

      Looks like you failed your civics class if you believe the first amendment applies to Private Enterprises.

    2. jetjock64 Guest

      That award amount will probably not stand. Courts of appeal typically decline to ratify jury-bigotry awards.

  28. thurstontravel Guest

    How sad America is.

  29. King George III Guest

    Land of the free, home of the bigoted

    1. John Hancock Guest

      that's a opinion that i certainly do not agree with. Labeling a country a bigot on pro life stance does not make sense. You do not have to agree with someone elses take. US is set up protect everyone and prevent tyranny of the majority. Something you do not understand.

  30. Chris Guest

    They rarely get the money In these suits. Buckle in for another 3 decades of appeals.

  31. Rjb Guest

    Hopefully he award gets doubled on appeal.

  32. David Guest

    There’s no practical implication of resigning from the union. Southwest’s agreement is a closed-shop agreement so whatever she had said does not have any legal effect. As long as she was still employed by southwest she was represented by the union and there is no way for her to unilaterally cease this representation except by ceasing her employment.

    Usually the finding of a jury cannot be appealed unless proven mistrial, but the amount of damages...

    There’s no practical implication of resigning from the union. Southwest’s agreement is a closed-shop agreement so whatever she had said does not have any legal effect. As long as she was still employed by southwest she was represented by the union and there is no way for her to unilaterally cease this representation except by ceasing her employment.

    Usually the finding of a jury cannot be appealed unless proven mistrial, but the amount of damages award can be. So likely WN will not have to pay as much, but there’s little prospect of them having it completely overturned.

  33. Chris Guest

    Las Vegas has two powerful unions that represent the majority of workers inside Strip hotels/casinos. As a retired member... and at one time, a "shop steward", I can help answer that question.

    Yes...the Union has to represent you...even if you "quit" the union.

    It is part of their charter with the Federal government that they "must represent all workers who are represented by that union"...even if that worker chooses to quit the union. All...

    Las Vegas has two powerful unions that represent the majority of workers inside Strip hotels/casinos. As a retired member... and at one time, a "shop steward", I can help answer that question.

    Yes...the Union has to represent you...even if you "quit" the union.

    It is part of their charter with the Federal government that they "must represent all workers who are represented by that union"...even if that worker chooses to quit the union. All quitting the union does is...tell the union that that worker no longer wants to contribute a portion of their paycheck(dues) to the union (which they may use for lobbying, etc...or in rare cases to pay displaced workers during a strike). The dues have no bearing on health benefits, retirement, etc. That funding comes from the negotiated agreements with the hotel (or in this case the airline).

    BTW...unions are VERY secretive about this fact! They are not required to disclose it to new members (all new hires by the company have to attend a union orientation where they will be "pressured" into thinking that joining is mandatory).

  34. Mon Guest

    If this stands then churches who fire non believers are going to have a very interesting time going forward. Oh wait, this is America, of course there will be a double sfandard.

    1. Pete Diamond

      Exactly…life begins at conception except in the HOV lane.

    2. Sel, D. Guest

      Pete I don’t think you understand the reasoning behind HOV lanes and why two seats must be occupied.

    3. Pete Diamond

      Sel I don’t think you understand the reasoning behind a woman’s autonomy over her body and what being “pro-life” should mean.

    4. Chris_ Member

      The HOV lane story is funny and sort of clever...but the LAST thing we want is Texas to say "you know what? That fetus is indeed a person. We'll treat it as such for all purposes, including the HOV lane." A fetus should universally NOT be treated as a person.

  35. Kevin Guest

    In this case I believe “leaving the union” was actually just her becoming a Dues Objector. In this case, a dues objector would receive a refund of all monies not germane to collective bargaining (basically the money that the union uses from dues to donate to PACS and such). We have plenty of dues objectors where I work and they’re still entitled to a full defense from the company, they’re just not allowed certain privileges , such as voting in elections.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

henare Diamond

We're all so very, very proud of you!

6
warren trout Guest

Freedom of speech isn't only for the left.

4
CMorgan Guest

I hope she gets the money. This was a huge overstep on the unions part and a poor choice by SW to fire this employee. The union and airline should never have taken a stance either way on this issue. Period!

3
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