Federal jury awards $5.1 million to Christian flight attendant illegally fired for posting social media messages about abortion

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“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.”

–CHARLENE CARTER

A Southwest Air flight attendant who was fired after she posted social media messages criticizing her union president’s support for abortion and for the Women’s March on Washington D.C. prevailed in court after claiming the airline had illegally retaliated against her because of her Christian beliefs.


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On hearing the facts and finding that Carter had been wrongfully fired, a federal jury in Dallas awarded Carter $5.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The jury ordered Southwest to pay Carter $4.15 million and the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556 to pay $950 million, finding that the two organizations had worked together to get rid of the outspoken flight attendant.

“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,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, a non-profit that represented Carter in her lawsuit.

Carter first began working for the airline in 1996, when she also joined the union. However, according to her legal complaint, Carter in 2013 grew increasingly displeased with the union after the members of the losing party in the Local 556 election accused members of the winning party of charges many union members found suspect. The winning party members were all removed or resigned and were replaced with the losing party members.

Carter voiced her opposition to replacing the winning members with the losing party, and at one point suggested decertifying Local 556 as the exclusive bargaining representative, after which she claimed she was warned of potential internal union charges. Carter opted out of the union in 2013, but she was still required to pay union dues. In 2016 a petition for a recall election gathered 7,000 signatures, but the leaders rejected it.

The next month, Local 556 members attended the Women’s March on Washington D.C. The organization’s newsletter discussed how the union brought members together to lobby in support of women’s rights and against right-to-work legislation. Members also posted pictures and videos on social media of themselves at the march with the Southwest logo on their signs.

The complaint also claims that Southwest aided the members in attending and used pink cabin lights in some of the flights to D.C. to show solidarity with the Women’s March.

Carter, who says she is a pro-life Christian, voiced her opposition on social media to union dues being used to pay for travel to support abortion. She posted a video of an aborted baby on social media and sent Local 556 President Audrey Stone several messages about the horrors of abortion and the union’s support for the Women’s March and abortion. In those messages, she called Stone “despicable,” as well as a “SHEEP in Wolves’ Clothing” and “uneducated.” Carter also supported a recall effort against Stone.

The Local 556 sent an email to flight attendants a short while later urging them to contact representatives to oppose right-to-work legislation. Carter emailed back saying that she supported right-to-work legislation.

Six days later, the management of Southwest Airlines began contacting Carter about a mandatory meeting regarding her Facebook posts. Despite her request for an information report, she was not given one. In the meeting, Southwest officials asked her why she made the pro-life posts and why she sent the messages to Stone. Carter explained her religious beliefs and opposition to the union supporting abortion. Carter was told she could not make posts on social media regarding her ideological beliefs in any connection to the workplace.

A week later Carter was fired. The complaint notes that other Southwest employees who supported the union were either never disciplined for bad behavior or were fired and then reinstated, including one employee who said that he supported a public execution to stop employees from criticizing union leadership.

She then sued for wrongful termination. While Southwest said she was fired for harassment and bullying, the jury found that the airline unlawfully discriminated against Carter because of her sincerely held Christian beliefs.

“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 said. “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.”

Mix stated:

“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.”

 According to their attorneys, Local 556 and Southwest will appeal, with a lawyer for the union claiming that the jury may not have understood the judge’s instructions.

Legal scholar and free speech advocate Jonathan Turley responded to this case by observing:

“Everything about that account is troubling. Questioning why an employee would post pro-life messages is clearly chilling and would be taken by many as corporate hostility toward the employee’s political and religious views. Moreover, for a union president to contact a company about threats is an extraordinary action that should only occur when there is a clear threat, rather than opposition to policies or support for a recall.”

This is another example of unions acting as political organizations who leverage member dues to push leftist, secular causes and persecute those who stand up to them.

At the same time, Southwest Air is yet another company that operates by a double standard: letting egregious conduct by some employees, including a sexually suggestive comment about a passenger made by one employee on social media, slide while rushing to fire a person who voices Christian beliefs.

The jury obviously saw through the union and Southwest’s attempt to conspire to railroad an opponent whose views they disfavor.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”

Perhaps some might disagree with how Carter went about speaking up, but she was speaking up about a cause she believes in and that so many tend to avoid. Abortion is murder, and she wanted to stop the union from using her money to promote it and stop the union from claiming to speak for her in its support for something she hates. We should all be willing to speak up for the preborn and other righteous causes and take a stand — even when others don’t like it.