Free speech win: Flight attendant wins $5 million over firing for pro-life views

by Jacob Fuller

Savannah Hulsey Pointer, FISM News 


An ex-Southwest flight attendant who filed a lawsuit against the airline in 2017 alleging that she was fired because of her position on abortion has been awarded more than $5 million in combined compensatory and punitive penalties by a federal jury in Texas, according to Fox Business.

The Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556 union and Southwest fired Charlene Carter for her religious views on abortion, which she made public on social media.

“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,” Carter told Fox Business in a Friday statement.

“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.”

The flight attendant became a member of the union in 1996 and officially resigned in 2013 after she realized the union was at odds with her personal religious views. She was required to continue paying union fees as part of her employment, however.

Carter posted her views, which criticized the union’s representation at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Facebook in 2017. She specifically noted union president Audrey Stone’s participation in the event, which received funding from Planned Parenthood. Carter also sent messages to the union leader voicing her intent to support Stone’s recall.

Carter was later required to attend a meeting with Southwest managers regarding her social media activity, where she was presented with screenshots of her Facebook posts and messages about her pro-life stance. Southwest fired her a week after company representatives informed her that Stone claimed to have been “harassed” by Carter online, according to the lawsuit.

“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,” said Mark Mix, president of National Right to Work Foundation, which offered pro-bono legal representation to Carter.

TWU Local 556 attorney Adam Greenfield claimed that the “factual evidence” in the case “indicates an outcome different from the recent decision of the jury, which may have misunderstood the court’s charge,” going on to say that they look forward to appellate review.

In a statement to Fox Business, Southwest said that the airline has “demonstrated [a] history of supporting our employees’ rights to express their opinions when done in a respectful manner. We are disappointed with this verdict and plan to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Mix, Carter’s attorney, said in reaction to the case’s verdict that “even with this basic right” to dissent from the union’s ideas “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.”

“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,” he continued.

According to The Associated Press, the jury in federal district court in Dallas awarded $4.15 million from Southwest and $950,000 from Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union, mostly in punitive damages.

Both the airline and union plan to appeal the decision.