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Texas Judge Rebukes Southwest Airlines for Violating Flight Attendant’s Religious Freedom

A Texas District Judge has reprimanded Southwest Airlines for infringing upon a flight attendant’s religious liberties and distorting the court’s ruling when communicating with its employees.

District Judge Brantley Starr issued a directive on Monday mandating the airline to conduct training on religious freedom and distribute a concise notification to all flight attendants, outlining the safeguards for religious expression. This ruling follows a lawsuit brought by flight attendant Charlene Carter. She was awarded $5 million last year.

Carter’s termination from Southwest occurred after she expressed her stance on abortion via social media, a move deemed to contravene the airline’s “civility policy.”

In his decision, the Judge emphasized that Southwest must recognize that federal safeguards for religious freedom take precedence over any company-mandated civility code. He emphasized that both the rule of law and the principles of a republican government necessitate this understanding.

Carter initiated legal proceedings after her dismissal, and the jury determined that Southwest had indeed violated her protections concerning religious expression, which are granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The court subsequently ordered her reinstatement and prohibited Southwest from engaging in discriminatory practices based on religious beliefs. Furthermore, the company was directed to inform all flight attendants that under Title VII, religious practices or beliefs should not be used as grounds for discrimination against Southwest’s flight attendants. This information was outlined in the court’s final verdict, published on Monday.

However, Southwest’s recent communication informed its flight attendants that the court’s order meant Southwest does not discriminate against its employees based on religious practices and beliefs. This twist of the court’s intent was evident.

Additionally, Southwest issued a memorandum to its flight attendants, urging them to adhere to policies that led to Carter’s termination. Subsequently, Carter sought sanctions against the airline.

In an effort to illustrate Southwest’s actions more vividly, the Judge offered creative analogies, suggesting that Southwest’s actions were akin to Adam denying eating from the forbidden tree while standing near its fallen apple core, or to the Balrog claiming not to pass while continuing past Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

Ultimately, the court found in its final verdict that not only did Southwest fail to comply with the court’s directive, but the company also distorted and conveyed a message contrary to the court’s intent.

Given Southwest’s apparent lack of clarity regarding the legal requirements for respecting religious freedom, the Judge recommended that the airline’s legal team undergo religious freedom training to gain a better understanding of compliance with the law in the future.

In order to enforce compliance with its order, the Texas court has stipulated the following actions for Southwest:

  1. The three attorneys responsible for Carter’s termination, namely Kerrie Forbes, Kevin Minchey, and Chris Maberry, must undergo religious freedom training by the non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom. The training is to be completed by August 28.
  2. An email must be sent to each flight attendant containing the following statement: “The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas ordered Southwest to issue the following statement to you: On December 20, 2022, Southwest’s Legal Department issued an e-mail to all flight attendants entitled ‘Recent Court Decision’ regarding a federal court judgment against Southwest and Transport Workers Union, Local 556. That e-mail said, ‘The court… ordered us to inform you that Southwest does not discriminate against our Employees for their religious practices and beliefs.’ The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas subsequently found that the statement’s use of ‘does not discriminate’ was incorrect. Accordingly, the Court has ordered Southwest’s Legal Department to issue the following amended statement: Under Title VII, Southwest may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs, including—but not limited to—those expressed on social media and those concerning abortion.”
  3. Southwest must verify that the three lawyers have completed the training and provide evidence of communicating the aforementioned statement to its flight attendants.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit organization led by Kristen Waggoner, champions religious speech freedom in legal, policy, and public contexts.

–Metro Voice and wire services

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