An ex-Southwest flight attendant who was sacked by the airline in 2017 for alleged workplace bullying over her ‘pro-life’ abortion campaigning has won a lawsuit against her union for retaliation and failing to provide fair representation.
At the culmination of the six-year legal battle, Charlene Carter convinced a North Texas jury that the union had unlawfully discriminated against her and failed to accommodate her sincerely held religious beliefs.
The court has now awarded Carter a total of $5.3 million in compensation, of which Southwest will have to pay $4.15 million in back pay and compensation for pain and suffering. The union has been ordered to compensate the remaining $1.15 million.
Carter was fired in 2017 for alleged workplace bullying and breaking the airline’s social media policy after she sent a barrage of graphic ‘pro-life’ Facebook messages to the flight attendant union’s president.
Carter was a long-serving Southwest flight attendant who joined the airline in 1996 until her dismissal 21 years later. When she joined the airline, Carter automatically became a member of the Local 556 Transport Workers Union but in 2013 she became a ‘nonmember objector’ of the union and started to argue that the union should be decertified.
In the years leading up to her dismissal, Carter sent private ‘pro-life’ Facebook messages to Audrey Stone, the local union’s president. In 2017, the content of these messages suddenly changed after Local 556 members participated in the ‘Women’s March on Washington D.C.’ that protested President Trump’s inauguration and advocated for various political causes.
In particular, Carter was unhappy with the union’s apparent support of Planned Parenthood, a major sponsor of the march. She sent two messages to Stone containing a video showing an aborted infant and claiming the union was “supporting this Murder”.
Carter also posted the videos to her public Facebook account, telling her followers: “THIS IS GRAFIC (sic)….but it needs to be shared over and over….this is MURDER! So far all of you that are Pro-Abortion GOD HELP YOU!”
A few weeks later, Southwest called Carter in for a meeting to discuss the Facebook posts. She admitted to sending the graphic videos of aborted fetuses in a letter explaining her dismissal. Her employment was terminated on March 16, 2017, for violating Southwest’s policy on harassment.
The lawsuit made headlines in 2020 after Stone was confronted by an armed process server while she was staying in a crew hotel, 2,000 miles away from her home. Southwest suspected an airline employee had infiltrated its computer systems to share confidential information.
Stone had to be grounded over fears for her safety.
Despite those serious allegations, the jury backed Carter in her battle against the union and Southwest Airlines.
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, the state of Texas had some of the strictest abortion laws in the United States.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.