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'Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn't fly at all': Judge orders Southwest Airlines to reinstate flight attendant fired for expressing pro-life views

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Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines fired former flight attendant Charlene Carter from her "dream job" for expressing pro-life views. Carter fought the airline and Transport Workers Union Local 556 for nearly six years and won in July.

The judge who ruled in her favor issued an order this week requiring the airline to reinstate Carter with full seniority and benefits.

What are the details?

In July, a federal jury agreed that Carter had been wrongfully terminated for her pro-life and religious views and awarded the former flight attendant a $5.1 million verdict — $950,000 from Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union and $4.15 million from Southwest Airlines.

The Dallas Morning News reported that U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr, nominated by former President Donald Trump in 2019, had to reduce the original amount to $810,180, including $150,000 in back pay, because federal discrimination law limits damages that companies can pay out.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the amount Carter will ultimately receive comprises $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from Southwest and another $300,000 for the same from the union; $150,000 in back pay; and over $60,000 in prejudgment interest.

While noting that the jury had also awarded Carter future pay lost as a result of her discriminatory firing by Southwest, Starr wrote that "Carter would rather have her job back."

Accordingly, the "Court reinstates Carter to her former position. ... If the Court opted for front pay over reinstatement, the court would complete Southwest's unlawful scheme. Reinstatement is appropriate."

Despite having had to significantly cut down Carter's compensation, Starr nevertheless enjoined the defendants "from discriminating against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs, including — but not limited to — those expressed on social media and those concerning abortion."

Extra to restoring Carter's job, Starr required both the airline and the union to electronically share the court's decision with all union members and to post the documents in conspicuous places for two months.

Accordingly, Southwest will have to remind its employees that the company is not allowed to discriminate against them for expressing their opinions about abortion online.

The judge also wrote that the airline's lawyers "continue to hunt for 'controversial' social-media posts from Carter instead of pondering their own mistakes and planning a future life free of them," despite having been found by a jury to be "grossly intolerant of their flight attendants' speech in violation of federal law."

"Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn’t fly at all with Southwest in this case," wrote Starr.

Southwest's pro-abortion baggage

Carter complained in 2017 to then-union president Audrey Stone that union members used union funds to travel to Washington, D.C., for the purposes of protesting former President Donald Trump's pro-life views. The protest was reportedly also sponsored by abortion activist groups such as Planned Parenthood.

Despite having terminated her membership with the union years earlier, under the conditions of her employment, Carter was still required to pay union fees — fees that subsidized the pro-abortion protest in Washington.

According to Life News, Carter had spent much of her adult life struggling with depression and regret over having let Planned Parenthood kill her unborn baby.

Made financially complicit in speech and actions she had long grown to detest, Carter spoke out.

While some union members went to express their disdain for Trump's opposition to the killing of the unborn, Carter took to social media to criticize both the pro-abortion march and Stone, calling the latter "despicable."

Carter was brought in by Southwest representatives one week later and asked to explain herself and her Facebook posts. The explanations, though honest, were apparently not what the company wanted to hear.

After working for the airline for 20 years, Carter was fired on March 16, 2017, for allegedly violating the company's harassment policy.

Upon Carter's victory over the airline in July, National Right to Work — the organization that provided Carter with free legal representation — stated, "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."

"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," the organization added.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Brandy King indicated that the airline intends to appeal the verdict to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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