A federal jury in Texas has awarded a former Southwest flight attendant more than $5 million after the airline fired her over her stance on abortion in a lawsuit dating back to 2017.
The reward in combined compensatory and punitive damages comes after the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556 union and Southwest fired Charlene Carter for her religious stance on abortion, which she publicized 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."
Adam Greenfield, an attorney with the Law Offices of Cloutman and Greenfield, PLLC, representing TWU Local 556, said 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.
"We look forward to appellate review," Greenfield said.
Southwest told FOX Business in a statement that the airline has "demonstrated history of supporting our [e]mployees’ 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," the company said.
Carter joined the union in 1996 and resigned in 2013 after realizing that her religious views did not align with those of the union, but she was required to continue paying union fees as a condition of her employment, according to a press release.
In 2017, Carter learned that the union and its president, Audrey Stone, attended the Women's March in Washington, D.C., which received some funding from Planned Parenthood. The flight attendant criticized the union's attendance on social media.
Carter also sent messages to the union leader expressing intent to support a recall effort against Stone.
Southwest managers then informed Carter that she had to attend a meeting regarding her Facebook posts, during which the airline presented screenshots of Carter's social media activity and messages regarding her pro-life stance and questioned why she posted them.
Company representatives also told Carter that Stone claimed to have been "harassed" by Carter online, and Southwest fired her a week later, 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.
Mix added that "even with this basic right" to dissent from the union's ideas "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."
"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.