Judge pauses religious freedom training order for Southwest Airlines


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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 24, 2023 / 09:05 am (CNA).

A federal judge put a 30-day pause on his order that Southwest Airlines lawyers receive religious freedom training from the Christian and conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom.

U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr delayed the enforcement of his order last Thursday, which would have required three Southwest Airlines lawyers to take an eight-hour training course from ADF within the month. According to Reuters, the judge issued the temporary pause while considering a longer delay as Southwest Airlines appeals his order that they receive the religious freedom training to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines provided CNA with the following statement: “While we aren’t offering comment on this decision, we’ve previously stated that Southwest has appealed the recent court order and the underlying judgment to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Starr issued the order after a jury found the company violated the religious liberty of one of its employees, a flight attendant named Charlene Carter. She was fired from Southwest Airlines after criticizing the union’s support for a Planned Parenthood event based on her religious objections to abortion.

A jury awarded Starr $5.1 million for the discrimination, but Starr cut that sum down to $800,000. Southwest was also ordered to rehire Carter. Additionally, the judge ordered that Southwest notify its workers that the company “may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.”

Rather than following the court order, Southwest issued a statement to workers that said “the court ordered us to inform you that Southwest does not discriminate against our employees for their religious practices and beliefs.” Starr found that the statement was not compliant with the court order, because it said the airline “does not” discriminate against workers, rather than saying it “may not.”

For this reason, Starr found Southwest in contempt of his order and subsequently ordered them to issue a court-written statement and take religious freedom training from ADF. The order stated that “training on religious freedom for three lawyers at Southwest the court finds responsible … is the least restrictive means of achieving compliance with the court’s order.”

The court-written statement orders Southwest to tell its employees that the “statement’s use of ‘does not discriminate’ was incorrect” in its previous notification. The statement includes what the court believes the airline should have said.

“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 court-approved statement reads.

Jim Campbell, who serves as chief legal counsel for ADF, told CNA that the organization is happy to help the airline with a training course.

“ADF is pleased that the judge and jury protected the religious speech of the employee in this case,” Campbell said. “Every company should respect religious liberty and diverse viewpoints in the workplace. We are happy to help Southwest achieve that goal by providing training on Title VII and other applicable laws barring religious discrimination.”

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