A former Southwest Airlines flight attendant has won a $5.1 million federal lawsuit in which she argued that she was fired by her former employer for opposing abortion and the use of union dues to support abortion-related causes.
On Thursday, the non-profit National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation announced that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled in favor of Charlene Carter, a professing Christian.
Per the judge’s ruling, Carter will receive $5.1 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages against the Transportation Workers Union of America and Southwest Airlines after the jury concluded that her termination was unlawful.
“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,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said in a statement.
“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.”
Carter first joined the TWU of America’s Local 556 union in September 1996. She resigned in 2013. Despite leaving the union, Carter was required under the federal Railway Labor Act to continue paying dues. According to The Christian Post, the RLA trumps state Right to Work laws that block regulations requiring employees to pay union fees as a condition of their employment and allows employers to fire an employee for refusing to pay union dues or fees.
However, the RLA also allows employees not to join a union and permits them to criticize and call for a change in union leadership.
In 2017, after learning that her union dues were being used to support abortion-related causes, including the “Women’s March on Washington DC,” an event that called for legal abortion and the funding of Planned Parenthood, Carter sued the TWU of America and Southwest Airlines.
Carter further voiced her disapproval of the use of union funds to support the Women’s March in multiple Facebook groups for Southwest flight attendants and sent a message to Local 556 President Audrey Stone.
According to The Christian Post, Carter sent another message to Stone regarding her support for a National Right to Work bill before finally being asked to attend a meeting with Southwest leadership to discuss her Facebook posts.
In Carter’s lawsuit, she claimed that Southwest leadership labeled her posts harassment and terminated her for violating the company’s social media and “Workplace Bullying and Hazing” policies.
Several months before the District Judge ruled in Carter’s favor, a federal judge blocked Southwest and the TWU of America from attempting to dismiss her lawsuit. Both organizations contended that Carter lacked a “private right of action” and that her case was merely a “minor” dispute beyond the district court’s jurisdiction.
“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 said.
“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.”