Southwest Enters Legal Fray With Anti-Abortion Employee Who Sued and Won $800,000

So, here's an entirely insane story: A Southwest employee was fired in 2017 for sending graphic anti-abortion messages to her co-worker. And a Trump-appointed judge determined Southwest should pay her $800,000.

Southwest Enters Legal Fray With Anti-Abortion Employee Who Sued and Won $800,000

Another day, another truly jarring reminder that federal judicial appointments matter. Last year, a Trump-appointed judge, U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr, determined that Southwest Airlines owed a terminated employee $800,000 for firing her after she sent hostile anti-abortion messages to a co-worker, and the airline is appealing, per the Dallas Morning News.

Since this utterly bonkers case may have slipped through the cracks amid the chaos of the last year, a refresher: Following the 2017 Women’s March, Southwest flight attendant Charlene Carter sent one of her co-workers a series of inappropriate messages, including one calling them “despicable” for attending the march. Carter also sent this co-worker, who’s also the leader of the union, “hostile and graphic” anti-abortion messages, as Southwest put it. Carter was—understandably!!!—terminated for violating the company’s workplace civility policy. She then sued the Dallas-based airline for religious discrimination, and the case worked its way through the legal system up to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

In August, Starr ruled that Southwest had discriminated against Carter for her Christian beliefs—even though it’s objectively, entirely standard for companies to terminate employees based on how they treat their co-workers. Then, on top of all of this, Starr ordered Southwest’s legal team to undergo at least eight hours of religious liberty training from Alliance Defending Freedom, the ultra-right anti-abortion group that’s launched several high-profile legal battles over same-sex marriage, trans rights, and, more recently, FDA approval of abortion pills. (The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the ADF an anti-LGBTQ hate group.) Starr also ordered Southwest to tell its employees that the company “may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.”

Instead, Southwest told its staff that the company “does not discriminate,” and instructed flight attendants to follow the airline policy for workplace civility that the company cited in firing Carter. Starr immediately found Southwest to be in contempt of his orders for not explicitly stating that it can’t discriminate against workers “for their religious practices and beliefs,” and ordered the company to pay Carter’s legal fees, too.

All of this is… crazy??? In sum, Southwest fired Carter for sending what sounded like horrific anti-abortion messages to a co-worker and consequently violating workplace policy. But she sued and won $800,000, a fee that Southwest is now challenging in court.

At a time when Republican politicians and Christofascist groups like the ADF obsessively push the narrative that virulently anti-abortion Christians are the most oppressed group in the nation, Carter and Southwest’s legal conflict—and the highly questionable politics of a Trump-appointed federal judge—offer a grave reality check.

Southwest and Carter’s attorneys will be back in court bright and early Monday, June 10.

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