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July 20, 2022

Fired Pro-Life Flight Attendant Awarded $5 Million

“Nobody should be able to retaliate against a flight attendant for engaging in protected speech against her union.”

Facebook is rarely a good place to try to settle disagreements, but Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter was determined to make sure the public knew what her union was doing with its member dues.

For Carter, the struggles with the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) began long before that fateful 2017 social media interaction. Carter became a flight attendant in 1996. By 2013, she had become disillusioned with her union and withdrew her membership. Unfortunately for her, she had to continue paying dues because it was stipulated in her employment contract for Southwest Airlines. In 2017, Carter heard that her union president, Audrey Stone, and other union members had used dues to attend the Women’s March in Washington, DC.

The Women’s March is partially sponsored by Planned Parenthood, and the latter therefore receives a cut of the profits from those who attend. Carter, who is a strong Christian and pro-life advocate, was outraged that her dues were being used to indirectly support an organization she adamantly opposes — especially since she really didn’t have any recourse under her employment contract to protest it.

She took her grievance to Facebook, where she argued against the choices of the union head and also articulated her support of a recall effort against President Stone. She also privately messaged Stone to reiterate her position, adding that she would be voting for a national right-to-work bill. This bill would have repealed previous legislation that traps employees into having to pay union dues — whether or not they are members — and would have given people like Carter the right not to have their money given to causes they do not support.

Carter, however, found that her social media protest was a source of distress for her employers. In a meeting days after the incident, Southwest management said her conduct was bullying and violated the company’s code of conduct. As a result, she was fired. This outrageous step was a clear and obvious First Amendment infringement.

To her credit, Carter pursued justice through the legal system. After years of waiting and battling it out in the courts, Carter won $5.1 million for wrongful termination. Her lawyer, National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix, who took on this case pro bono, had this to say about the verdict:

This long overdue verdict vindicates Ms. Carter’s fundamental right to dissent from the causes and ideas that TWU union officials — who claim to “represent” Southwest flight attendants — support while forcing workers to bankroll their activities. No American worker should have to fear termination, intimidation, or any other reprisal merely for speaking out against having their own money spent, purportedly in their name, to promote an agenda they find abhorrent.

Even with this basic right under the Railway Labor Act successfully defended, however, TWU union officials still enjoy the enormous government-granted privilege of being able to force airline workers to financially subsidize their activities as a condition of employment. While we’re proud to stand with Ms. Carter and are pleased by the verdict, there ultimately should be no place in American labor law for compelling workers to fund a private organization that violates their core beliefs.

Both Southwest Airlines and TWU intend to appeal, so the fight is not entirely over. But for now, Carter says: “Today is a victory for freedom of speech and religious beliefs. Flight attendants should have a voice and nobody should be able to retaliate against a flight attendant for engaging in protected speech against her union. I am so humbled and thankful for today’s decision and for everyone who’s supported me these past five years, including the National Right to Work Foundation.”

Congratulations to Charlene Carter for her victory in court.

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