Three senior attorneys for Southwest Airlines have been ordered to take an eight-hour religious liberty training offered by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom after a judge said they failed to follow his orders following a flight attendant’s free speech case.
U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr of Texas said the company’s attorneys did not follow his orders to notify employees of their rights against religious discrimination after the court ruled in favor of Charlene Carter, a flight attendant who said she was fired for voicing her anti-abortion views and ultimately won a $5.1 million verdict.
Starr, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the lawyers did not follow orders and instead sent a memo to employees warning them of violating the same company policy Carter did and claiming, “There’s nothing to see here,” the judge wrote.
Starr’s new order included an exact statement he ordered Southwest to send “verbatim” to its flight attendants and he told the company it needed to fly an Alliance Defending Freedom representative to Dallas to conduct a training for the three lawyers, who do “not appear to comprehend” religious liberties law.
Ordering employers to take steps after discriminatory conduct is not uncommon, but ordering them to undergo training by specific groups is unusual, Reuters reported, noting that the Alliance Defending Freedom has often been involved in high-profile cases, including helping to draft a Mississippi abortion ban later upheld by the Supreme Court.
David Lopez, former attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told Reuters the judge’s order could itself be a violation of constitutional rights if the attorneys in question practice other religions, as ADF often advocates for conservative Christian views.
Southwest Airlines said it plans to appeal Starr’s ruling.
“In the universe we live in—the one where words mean something— Southwest’s notice didn’t come close to complying with the Court’s order,” Starr wrote.
Carter sued Southwest and the Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union after she said she was fired for complaining to her union president about union dues being used to pay for an anti-abortion protest after some flight attendants attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. The march was in protest of Trump’s abortion policies, and Carter said she is a Christian who opposes abortion. Southwest said it wasn’t the messages with the union president that led to her firing, but that Carter was let go because of “highly offensive” posts on her Facebook page, which Southwest said violated the company’s social media policies. A federal jury out of Dallas sided with Carter last year and ordered Southwest to pay $4.15 million—plus an additional $950,000 from the union—which she called a “victory for freedom of speech and religious beliefs.” The union and the airline said they would appeal the decision.
A mother sued Southwest Airlines last week, claiming employees accused her of trafficking her biracial daughter and called the police in an act of “blatant racism.” The mom filed the suit in Colorado, claiming that after she and her 10-year-old daughter disembarked from a flight from San Jose to Denver in 2021, they were met by police who’d been told her daughter was a possible victim of human trafficking, ABC News reported.
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