DENVER (KDVR) — A former Southwest Airlines flight attendant was awarded a $5.1 million settlement in federal court after claiming she was fired over her stance on abortion.
The anti-abortion advocate and Denver resident spoke with FOX31 to share her side of the story.
Charlene Carter filed the case in federal court, and it’s played out for the last five years. On Monday, she said she finally feels free after having her day in court. And she said she hopes this case sets a precedent that a difference of opinion does not equate to rightful termination.
The total settlement was for $5.1 million: $4.15 million from Southwest and $950,000 from Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union.
Union paid for flight attendants at Women’s March
Carter was living out her dream, working as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines for more than two decades, but that came to a screeching halt in 2017 when the mother of two was suddenly fired.
“It hit us financially, but it also hit me really hard to know that a company I did love and that I gave my soul to basically for 21 years just in a matter of moments fired me,” Carter said.
She alleged the termination was targeted and done out of retaliation after she complained to Audrey Stone, the union president at the time, for taking flight attendants to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March to support a woman’s right to choose.
“It upset a lot of flight attendants because they really didn’t represent the whole,” Carter said.
The march did not align with Carter’s views, but she also believed the trip was on the union’s dime. She said she checked with the union treasurer to confirm the information.
“We paid for their lodging, their food and their transportation,” Carter said. “They took it out of our dues for the women’s committee, and so we all paid for it. Whether you’re a woman or not, you were going to pay for them to go to this march.”
According to the Associated Press, Carter sent a series of Facebook messages, some containing videos of purported aborted fetuses to Stone, the union president. She called Stone “despicable” and said she would be voted out of office.
Carter said after a weeklong process, she was pulled into the office by her supervisor and fired. She explained that public posts on her personal Facebook page were referenced, including two videos of aborted fetuses.
“We should all have freedom of speech and our own opinions,” Carter said. “I wasn’t in my uniform or anything like that, but they used that particular social media policy to fire me saying that it could be disparaging to Southwest because I’m pro-life.”
Anti-abortion social media posts, messages, lead to firing
According to court documents, the airline said it fired Carter because posts on her Facebook page, in which 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 the use of social media.
After years of sparring with the union and airline, last week a seven-member jury ruled Southwest unlawfully discriminated against Carter because of her sincerely held religious beliefs.
“Companies shouldn’t fire employees just because they have a difference of opinion,” Carter said. “I hear a lot of people getting fired for social media policy and the Railway Labor Act trumps that, and these companies are getting away with it and they’re firing good people.”
She added that people must work together despite their differences and not choose hate. Carter wants to get her job with Southwest Airlines back but said it will be up to a judge to decide.
Southwest is responding to the federal verdict stating, “Southwest Airlines has a demonstrated history of supporting our Employees’ rights to express their opinions when done in a respectful manner. We are disappointed with this verdict and plan to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The union is also responding. Adam Greenfield, an attorney with the Law Offices of Cloutman and Greenfield, PLLC, sent FOX31 a statement reading, “The factual evidence of Carter v. SWA et. al. indicates an outcome different from the recent decision of the jury, which may have misunderstood the court’s charge. We look forward to appellate review.”