UPDATE: Ex-flight attendant Charlene Carter won her lawsuit and was awarded $5.3 million by a North Texas jury. The jury found the Transport Workers Union Local 556 violated her rights as a worker to advocate against her union.
Southwest must now pay $4.15 million in back pay (as well as pain and emotional suffering) while her union must pay her $1.15 million.
A Southwest Airlines flight attendant has been fired for “harassing” her co-worker by challenging her position on abortion through the use of incendiary images.
Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant Fired For Anti-Abortion Facebook Messages
Charlene Carter was a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. She did not like that her union president, Audrey Stone, participated in a pro-choice rally with other colleagues in 2017 “with signs identifying their union affiliation.” So she let her know via Facebook. And she used graphic, gruesome images and video of aborted fetuses to make her point. This took place over five private messages. Carter also added commentary, including:
This is what you supported during your Paid Leave with others at the Women’s MARCH in DC….You truly are Despicable in so many ways…by the way the RECALL is going to Happen and you are limited in the days you will be living off of all the [Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants]..cant wait to see you back on line.
Wonder how this will be coded in the LM2 Financials…cause I know we paid for this along with your Despicable Party you hosted for signing the Contract….The RECALL [of the Local 556 Executive Board] is going to Happen we are even getting more signatures due to other [flight attendants] finding out what you guys do with our MONEY!!! Can’t wait for you to have to be just a regular flight attendant again and not stealing from our DUES for things like this!
Did you know this….Hmmmm seems a little counter productive don’t you think….you are nothing but a SHEEP in Wolves Clothing or you are just so uneducated that you have not clue who or what you were marching for! Either way you should not be using our DUES to have Marched in this despicable show of TRASH!
Stone wrote Carter back, telling her to contract her Congressional legislators if she wanted change in public policy. Carter responded, stating:
First off I do not want your Propaganda coming to my inbox…that being said I Support the RIGHT TO WORK Organization 100% ABOVE what I have to pay you all in DUES! YOU and TWU-AFL-CIO do not Speak For Me or over half of our work group…We have a RECALL right now that we want adhered to with over the 50+ 1% and growing. WE WANT YOU all GONE!!!!!
P.S. Just sent The RIGHT TO WORK more money to fight this…. YOU all DISGUST ME!!!!! OH and by the WAY I and so many other of our FAs VOTED FOR TRUMP….so shove that in your Propaganda MACHINE!
Stone reported Carter for harassment and Southwest fired her, after “telling her she cannot make a political statement while at work and cannot post ideological views on a personal Facebook page with a connection to the workplace.” Southwest added that Stone felt “harassed by the images and the statement sent in the messages.”
Flight Attendant Now Suing Union + Southwest
Now Carter is suing for retaliation, illegal termination, and discrimination under Title VII on the basis of her religious beliefs. The case is pending, but a court has dismissed Southwest’s motion for summary judgment (a request to dismiss the case for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted).
Note that at one point Southwest offered to reinstate Carter (ironically, after the union that Carter decried went to bat for her). Carter refused to be muzzled as part of a re-entry package and continued with arbitration, where her termination was upheld. The lawsuit followed.
No matter your position on abortion, there should be some empathy for Carter’s convictions concerning what she deems the protection of unborn life.
The way the Vietnam and Iraq wars were protested was by showing the gruesome reality of the death and carnage such conflicts perpetuated. One way violence against people of color is protested is to show the gruesome images of police abuse, like a grown man gasping for breath and calling for his mother while being murdered by a cop taking a knee on him.
That’s not so much to make an equivalency argument as it is to note the veracity of using shocking images and video to further an argument.
For someone in the pro-life camp, the whole “no one is forcing you to have an abortion” argument rings about as hollow as “nobody is forcing you to have a slave.” If you believe that a fetus is a vulnerable human life worthy of protection, then the idea that you can just leave it to the conscience of each person is not compatible with that viewpoint: a fetus is either human life worthy of protection or not…it cannot be that it is for some and not for others.
No one likes to be confronted with something gruesome, especially if it questions their worldview. And don’t think for one moment I am condoning workplace harassment. There is a time and place for these issues and badgering a colleague is not constructive, even if such discourse was invited by Stone’s choice not only to attend a pro-choice rally in her own capacity, but under the union banner.
Southwest Airlines Abortion Lawsuit: An Additional Legal Twist
Carter is being represented pro bono by Matthew Gilliam of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Southwest now wants him removed as counsel because it claims that he tried to intimate Stone by serving her personally (versus the union) and because the process server was carrying a holstered gun on his belt (in New Mexico, an open carry state). Southwest also claims Gilliam obtained access to internal proprietary information to pinpoint which hotel Stone was staying out so she could be served.
Opposing Southwest’s motion, Gilliam said:
“Southwest’s emergency motion seeks to deprive plaintiff Charlene Carter of her chosen counsel and punish her attorney based on nothing more than wild assertions and rank speculation.”
Gilliam claims information about Stone’s whereabouts in order to effectuate service of process was supplied on an unsolicited basis by two independent sources.
It is surprising this issue was not handled within the union versus involving Southwest. I don’t find the images or messages particularly harassing, though her poor proofreading make me look like Emily Post. It is hardly surprising why a union president would march in the 2017 Women’s March when she represents so many women who view protecting their privacy from government invasion akin to prohibiting others from enslaving them. But is is also not surprising that not everyone was onboard.
What are your thoughts on this case? Is this a cut and dry example of impermissible harassment or the silencing of a legally protected minority opinion?