Sanctioned lawyers must take classes from conservative Christian nonprofit, federal judge rules
“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,” wrote U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr of the Northern District of Texas. Photo from Shutterstock.
A federal judge in Dallas has ordered three in-house lawyers for Southwest Airlines to attend classes with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal advocacy group, to purge itself of civil contempt for "inverting" the language in a court-ordered message.
U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr of the Northern District of Texas said the lawyers must take religious liberty classes from the conservative Christian nonprofit that has successfully represented a cake baker and a website designer who did not want to provide services for same-sex weddings.
Starr, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, had ordered Southwest Airlines to inform its flight attendants that the airline may not discriminate based on religious practices and beliefs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
But the notice posted by Southwest Airlines says a court “ordered us to inform you that Southwest does not discriminate against our employees for their religious practices and beliefs.”
Starr said the altered language made it sound as if the court was “bequeathing Southwest a badge of honor for not discriminating.”
“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 said.
Southwest Airlines also has to pay attorney fees associated with a contempt motion filed by the plaintiff, a flight attendant who successfully sued Southwest Airlines for retaliation. The attendant was fired after she opposed the use of union funds to help members attend a women’s march sponsored by Planned Parenthood, according to Law360.
Southwest Airlines had claimed that the employee, Charlene Carter, was fired for violating its social media policies regarding civility. Carter claimed religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and won $5 million in damages, a verdict that was later reduced to $800,000, according to Law360.
Besides changing the required notice, Southwest Airlines told flight attendants in a memo that they must abide by the types of policies that led to Carter’s firing, and that the company thought that the firing was justified.
“It’s hard to see how Southwest could have violated the notice requirement more,” Starr wrote. “Southwest needs to understand, when communicating with its employees, that federal protections for religious freedom override any company civility policy.”
Starr has now crafted a message that Southwest Airlines must post verbatim. The first part of the statement explains what Southwest Airlines did wrong in its message to flight attendants. The final paragraph of the required statement reads: “Under Title VII, Southwest may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs, including—but not limited to—those expressed on social media and those concerning abortion.”
The three Southwest Airlines lawyers required to take classes with Alliance Defending Freedom are Kerrie Forbes, Kevin Minchey and Chris Maberry.
Southwest Airlines plans to appeal, Reuters reports.
The case is Carter v. Transport Workers Union of America, Local 556 and Southwest Airlines Co.