JudicialSouthwest Flight Attendant Moves to Hold Airline in Contempt of Court Order

In an ongoing religious discrimination case, flight attendant Charlene Carter has moved for sanctions against Southwest for violating a court injunction.
January 12, 2023
A flight attendant who won a religious discrimination lawsuit against Southwest Airlines has now filed a motion for sanctions against the company for statements it made to employees about the case.

Charlene Carter, represented by the National Right to Work Foundation, sued the company and the Transport Workers Union after she was fired for pro-life statements she made and her criticism of the local union’s involvement in the “Women’s March” in Washington, D.C.

This summer, a jury in federal district court in Dallas awarded over $5 million in damages to Carter for the discriminatory actions taken against her.

In December, U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr reinstated Carter to her position as a flight attendant with full seniority and benefits. “Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn’t fly at all with Southwest in this case,” Starr wrote in his opinion.

Starr also issued an injunction against Southwest prohibiting it from religious discrimination against its employees and required the company to inform its flight attendants that it “may not” discriminate against them.

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Carter alleges in her motion to hold Southwest in contempt of the court order that the airline violated the injunction when it sent a notice to flight attendants on December 20 entitled “Recent Court Decision.”

Instead of saying it “may not” engage in religious discrimination, the notice said “that the Court ordered the company to notify them that it ‘does not’ discriminate on the basis of religion.”

Additionally, the motion alleges that Southwest sent an “Inflight Information on the Go” memo to all flight attendants that also violated the court’s injunction.

The memo, sent to 17,000 Southwest flight attendants, mentioned the company’s disappointment with the outcome of the litigation and stated its plan to appeal the decision.

It characterized Carter’s previous communications for which she was fired as “inappropriate, harassing, and offensive.”

It closed the memo by reminding employees of their “shared goal … of extending hospitality to everyone around us.”

“Southwest conveyed to flight attendants that the company will continue to enforce its social media policies against their religious expression, practices, and beliefs if Southwest decides that they did not exercise them in a civil and respectful manner,” Carter’s motion for sanctions asserts.

In its reply to the motion for sanctions, Southwest argued that its communications did not violate the court’s injunction.

“Indeed, the Court did not purport to constrain Southwest’s exercise of its First Amendment rights to voice its disagreement with the outcome of the case and its expectations of its employees. Southwest has taken no action against Carter, or any other employee, that could be construed as discrimination covered by the Court’s Judgment,” the response read.

The motion asks the court to find Southwest in contempt and order it to immediately issue corrective notices.

It offered an example of language for the corrective notice including, “As we should have done previously, Southwest’s Legal Department issues this corrected notice to inform you that, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, Southwest may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs, including — but not limited to — those expressed on social media and those concerning abortion. Southwest’s Legal Department apologizes for misrepresenting the Court decision and jury verdict in its prior statement on December 20, 2022.”

The motion also asks the court to consider imposing monetary sanctions against Southwest, its officials, and counsel who were involved in crafting and approving the communications to airline employees about the recent court decision.

At the time of publication, no hearing had yet been set in the matter.

A copy of Southwest’s memo can be found below.


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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.