EEOC Charges say union officials and Southwest violated flight attendant’s civil rights when they fired her for voicing her beliefs
Dallas, TX (October 3, 2017) - With free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, a fired Southwest Airlines flight attendant sued her ex-employer and union officials on September 14, 2017, after voicing her views on abortion, supporting a National Right to Work law, and opposing union officials’ leadership. Charlene Carter has filed a court complaint against Transport Union Workers of America (TWUA) Local 556 and Southwest Airlines as well as Equal Opportunity Employment Commission employment discrimination charges against Southwest Airlines and Local 556.
Charlene Carter is a Christian who believes her faith requires that she spread her pro-life message. As a Southwest employee, Carter joined Local 556 in September 1996. She resigned her membership in September 2013 after learning that her union dues were going towards causes that violate her conscience.
As is her right, Carter dropped union membership but was still forced to pay fees to Local 556 as a condition of her employment. State Right to Work laws do not protect her from forced union fees because airline and railway employees are covered by the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA allows union officials to have a worker fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees.
Carter often directly messaged the president of Local 556 with criticisms of the union’s leadership and political stances. Carter never had any communication from Southwest, from the union, or the union president that such speech was contrary to the terms of her employment. That changed in 2017, when after several years of dissatisfaction with union officials, Carter criticized the union for supporting abortion and voiced support for National Right to Work legislation that would end the requirement that she pay forced union fees to a union that advocates against positions about which she feels strongly.
A labor dispute amongst Local 556 members began in 2012 and lasted more than five years concerning the legitimacy of the Local 556 Executive board. Two members of the board were removed after their opponents filed misconduct claims against them. Under union bylaws, two candidates from the losing party were nominated to fill the vacant positions. Audrey Stone of the losing party was elected president by the newly installed executive board.
Over the next two years, more than 90 employees opted out of union membership in response to what they saw as an improper power grab. The election was again contested via a Department of Labor complaint, but that complaint was eventually dismissed by Labor Department officials. Through 2016, over 7,000 signatures were collected for a recall of Stone but the union executive board dismissed this petition as well.
In January 2017, Carter found out that Stone and other Local 556 officials probably used union dues to attend the “Women’s March on Washington DC” which showed support for several political positions she opposed, including abortion and funding for the abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
Carter posted in various Facebook groups for Southwest flight attendants and sent a personal message to President Stone, explaining why she was upset her money was going towards causes she did not support. These complaints garnered no response from either the union or Southwest. But then, Carter sent Stone another e-mail exclaiming her support for a National Right to Work bill.
Only six days after sending Stone that e-mail, Carter received notification from Southwest managers that they needed to have a mandatory meeting as soon as possible in regards to “Facebook posts they had seen.” During this meeting, Southwest presented Carter screen shots of her pro-life postings. Southwest bosses questioned why she sent these messages, despite Carter explaining her beliefs. Southwest authorities said that Stone claimed to be harassed by these messages.
A week after this meeting, Carter was fired from her job. Southwest said she violated its “Workplace Bullying and Hazing Policy” and its “Social Media Policy” by sharing her pro-life beliefs because her message was “highly offensive in nature.” Carter had never previously received any discipline in her 20 year career with Southwest.
As Carter’s legal filings document, this explanation lacks any credulity. Throughout the five year labor dispute over the TWUA Local 556 executive board, supporters of Stone routinely encouraged violence, used vulgarities, and even sent death threats towards their fellow Southwest employees and union members who opposed Stone. Yet none of them have been fired for their offensive language, apparently because they had the right politics and supported the union brass.
“This case shows the extent to which union officials will wield their power over employers to violate the rights’ of the workers they claim to represent,” said Mark Mix president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Charlene Carter did nothing wrong. She merely voiced her opinion and opposition to her money being used for causes she opposes, expressing her protected religious beliefs. Southwest and TWUA union officials need to be held accountable for violating Charlene’s rights and the National Right to Work Foundation is pleased to help her stand up to this campaign of harassment.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year. Its web address is www.nrtw.org.