A Southwest Airlines flight attendant who won a bumper $5.3 million compensation payout against the carrier and her union has had her award reduced by nearly 85 per cent after a federal judge ruled that the original multi-million-dollar jury award breached federal law caps on punitive and compensatory damages.
Charlene Carter was a long-serving flight attendant at the Dallas-based carrier until she was sacked in 2017 over allegations of workplace bullying that surrounded her ‘pro life’ abortion campaigning.
Following a six-year legal battle, a jury ruled in favor of Carter in July and found that the flight attendant union had unlawfully discriminated against her and failed to accommodate her sincerely held religious beliefs.
Southwest was initially ordered to pay Carter $4.15 million in back pay and compensation for pain and suffering, while the Transport Workers Union was landed with a $1.15 million bill in compensation for Carter.
But on Tuesday, a federal judge limited the total payout to $810,180, which includes $300,000 each from Southwest and the union in compensation, $150,000 in back pay, and $60,180 in prejudgment interest.
Southwest has also been ordered to rehire Carter with full seniority and benefits. Lawyers acting for Southwest unsuccessfully argued that Carter shouldn’t be reinstated because she had been volunteering at non-profit entities after her dismissal.
In addition, Southwest must send a copy of the jury’s verdict and judgement to all its flight attendants and post the documents on internal bulletin boards for at least 60 days.
The airline will also inform flight attendants that it is not allowed to discriminate against them for expressing their opinion about abortion on social media.
“Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn’t fly at all with Southwest in this case,” district judge Brantley Starr ruled on Tuesday.
“The jury found the Defendants (Southwest Airlines) were grossly intolerant of their flight attendants’ speech in violation of federal law. And, even now, their 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,” the judgment continued.
Carter was fired 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.
Southwest fired Carter on March 16, 2017 for violating its policy on harassment.
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.