Southwest Flight Attendant Fired Over Pro-Life Views to Have Her Day in Federal Court, Judge Rules

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A federal judge has ordered that fired Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter’s religious discrimination lawsuit against the company and its union would proceed to trial, after the judge denied a request to dismiss the lawsuit.

The case, known as Carter v. Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, civil action 3:17-cv-2278, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. On May 5, Judge Brantley Starr, a Trump appointee, denied (pdf) a motion for summary judgment brought by the union and the airline.

Starr ruled that the suit should go to trial because “genuine disputes of material fact preclude summary judgment” on all claims.

National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix, whose organization is representing Carter in court, hailed the court ruling.

“This decision is an important step towards long overdue justice for Charlene,” Mix said in a statement. “The ruling rejects several attempts by Southwest and union officials to deny Ms. Carter’s right to bring this case in federal court and enforce her RLA-protected speech and association rights.

“Further, the decision acknowledges that, at its core, this case is about an individual worker’s right to object to how forced union dues and fees are spent by union officials to take positions that are completely contrary to the beliefs of many workers forced under the union’s so-called ‘representation,’”

Carter’s story goes back to 1996 when, as a Southwest employee, she joined the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556. A pro-life Christian, she quit the labor union in 2013 upon learning her union dues were being spent to promote social causes that violate her conscience and religious beliefs.

Despite resigning from the union, Carter was still required to pay fees in lieu of union dues as a condition of her employment. State-level right-to-work laws don’t exempt her from forced fees because airline and railway employees fall under the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA), which permits union officials to have a worker fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees. Despite this, the RLA protects the rights of employees to remain nonmembers of the union, to criticize the union and its leadership, and to advocate for changing the union’s current leadership.

By Matthew Vadum

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