August 16, 2023

Judge Sanctions Southwest Airlines for Ignoring Court Order in Religious Liberty Case

Photo credit: Aero Icarus / Flickr
US District Judge Brantley Starr in Texas issued sanctions against Southwest Airlines and ordered its attorneys to take religious freedom training from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

The order comes after the airline lost a religious freedom lawsuit for firing flight attendant Charlene Carter, an employee who expressed disagreement with her union's pro-abortion stance. Carter was awarded $5 million, and she was reinstated to her position.

The airline was further ordered by the court to inform its workers that the company “may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.” In its August 7 ruling, the court said Southwest “didn’t come close to complying with the court’s order.”

Southwest's "Recent Court Decision" memo issued to employees after the lawsuit downplayed the decision and maintained that it "does not" discriminate against employees' religious beliefs. According to Carter's attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation, this wording implied that Southwest will determine what religious speech is acceptable.

Starr ordered Southwest to provide a statement verbatim to its flight attendants to ensure they understand how religious speech is protected. The order also requires Southwest to fly an ADF attorney to Dallas to provide eight hours of religious freedom training to Southwest attorneys Kerrie Forbes, Kevin Minchey, and Chris Maberry. Southwest will be responsible for the ADF representative's expenses. This training must be completed by August 28.

Southwest told CNA that it planned “to appeal the recent court order and are in the process of appealing the underlying judgment to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”