A former Southwest Airlines flight attendant who was fired after conflicting with her union president over abortion won a $5.1 million jury verdict against the airline and the union, the The Associated Press reported.
Charlene Carter could collect $4.15 million from Southwest and $950,000 from Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union, mostly in punitive damages, the AP reported. The verdict came in federal district court in Dallas last week.
The Southwest flight attendant alleged she was fired in March, 2017, after complaining to the union president about flight attendants from Southwest going to a women's march in Washington, D.C. The march in the capital city was called shortly after the election of former President Donald Trump to protest his positions on abortion and other issues.
Carter, who is anti-abortion, disapproved that union dues were paying for Union President Audrey Stone and other union officials to attend the protest, and that union members who wanted to attend the march had been granted adjustments to their work schedules, Fortune reported.
She posted a series of Facebook messages to Stone, apparently some containing videos of aborted fetuses. "This is what you supported during your paid leave with others at the Women's March in D.C.," she wrote in one Facebook message, according to the Dallas Morning News. "You truly are despicable in so many ways."
Stone reportedly felt harassed by the flight attendant's posts and told Southwest. Carter was dismissed a week later, the AP reported. She filed suit soon afterward.
According to court documents, the airline said it fired Carter because posts on her Facebook page, where she could be identified as a Southwest employee, were "highly offensive" and that her private messages to Stone were harassing. The airline said she violated company policies on bullying and use of social media, AP reported.
But the jury found Southwest unlawfully discriminated against Carter because of her sincerely held religious beliefs, ruling that her termination was a violation of her right to advocate against her union.
Carter had actually exited the union in 2013, as she did not agree with the social causes it supported. However, she was still required by the airline to pay union dues as part of her employment.
Carter, who had worked 20 years for Southwest, said the union did not fairly represent her and retaliated against her for expressing her views. Her lead attorney is from the National Right To Work Committee, which campaigns against compulsory union membership.
Southwest said Friday that it "has a demonstrated history of supporting our employees' rights to express their opinions when done in a respectful manner." It plans to appeal. A lawyer for the union said jurors might have misunderstood the judge's instructions, and it also plans to appeal the verdict, AP reported.
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