Southwest to appeal judge’s ‘religious freedom training’ order

Southwest Airlines said it plans to appeal a federal judge’s order that requires “training on religious freedom” for three of its lawyers, according to a statement shared with The Hill.

U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr, a Trump appointee, on Monday ordered the Southwest attorneys to undergo training by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian conservative legal advocacy group.

The judge wrote in a 29-page ruling that ADF “has conducted such training in the past, and the Court deems that appropriate here.”

ADF has argued numerous cases seeking to bolster religious protections across the country while also pushing back on LGBTQ and abortion rights. The group describes itself on its website as the world’s largest organization dedicated to protecting religious freedom.

The sanctions order follows a previous ruling in which Starr ordered Southwest to reinstate Charlene Carter, a flight attendant fired in 2017 for posting on social media about abortion. A jury issued a verdict against the airline and her union last year, finding it discriminated against her over her anti-abortion stance.

The judge wrote Monday that the airline was ordered “to inform Southwest flight attendants that, under Title VII, [Southwest] may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.’ Instead, Southwest’s notice said, ‘[t]he court … ordered us to inform you that Southwest does not discriminate against our Employees for their religious practices and beliefs.’ “

“Southwest’s notice failed to mention Title VII, that the federal law known as Title VII
contains a prohibition, and that that prohibition forbids Southwest from discriminating against flight attendants for their religious beliefs. Instead, Southwest’s notice communicated that there’s nothing to see here—aside from the Court’s bequeathing Southwest a badge of honor for not discriminating (which the Court did not do),” he added.

The judge ordered the training to be completed by Aug. 28, told Southwest to reissue language “verbatim” about the decision to its flight attendants and pay Carter’s legal fees.

“We plan to appeal the recent court order and are in the process of appealing the underlying judgment to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Southwest said in a statement Wednesday.

The jury awarded Carter $5.1 million last year but Starr in 2022 had cut the award to about $800,000 while ordering the airline to rehire the woman.

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