Southwest Airlines tries to overturn fine for firing anti-abortion flight attendant

FILE-A Southwest Airlines airplane taxies from a gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Southwest Airlines is attempting to repeal an $800,000 award to a flight attendant who alleges she got fired over her anti-abortion views.

The airline returned to court Monday arguing that flight attendant Charlene Carter lost her job because she violated company rules requiring civility in the workplace by sending inappropriate anti-abortion messages to a coworker, who also was president of the local union, the Associated Press reported. 

Carter called the union leader "despicable" for going to the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. where demonstrators pushed for protection of abortion rights and criticized the inauguration of then-President Donald Trump. 

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According to the AP, Carter’s lawyers contend in court documents that she was clear with Southwest Airlines management that she sent the material because she was a "pro-life Christian" adding that she had to spread the word to anyone discussing the topic of abortion. 

The attorneys also stated that Carter’s firing violated federal law protecting workers from religious-based discrimination, explaining in the filing that Southwest leadership and the union should be held responsible for the flight attendant’s firing. 

Following the trial, the judge hearing the case mandated that Southwest Airlines notify flight attendants that under federal law, it "may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs."

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However, Southwest told workers that it "does not discriminate," and told flight attendants to follow the airline policy it cited in firing Carter.

The judge determined that Southwest in contempt in August 2023 for the way it explained the case to flight attendants. He also ordered Southwest to pay Carter’s recent legal costs and he ordered a statement for the airline to share with employees.

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Moreover, the judge also required three Southwest attorneys to complete about eight hours of religious liberty training from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which offers training on compliance with federal law prohibiting religious discrimination in the workplace.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  This story was reported from Washington, D.C.