In August 2017, a flight attendant sued her employer and her union in federal court. The plaintiff would amend her complaint a few times. Among the claims that remained in the final version, the plaintiff alleged that both defendants violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Carter’s religious beliefs and practices.
How, you ask?
The plaintiff claimed that:
- her religious beliefs require her to share with others her pro-life stance on abortion;
- the union complained to her employer about her pro-life posts on Facebook;
- the union violated Title VII by trying to get her fired over her religious views; and
- the employer violated Title VII when it did fire her because of her pro-life social media content.
The plaintiff posited that the defendants treated her less favorably than similarly situated flight attendants who
did not share her religious beliefs and practices and violated the company’s social media policies. Plus, Title VII required the defendants to accommodate her religious beliefs and practices.
A few months ago, a federal judge in Dallas, Texas, permitted the plaintiff’s claims to proceed to trial. In this opinion, the judge concluded that a genuine dispute existed over the union’s decision to report her and why the airline terminated her. A reasonable jury could conclude that the defendants indeed discriminated against the plaintiff because of her religious beliefs and practices or that the defendants had “perfectly legal bases for acting the way that they did.”
On Thursday, the jury concluded that the defendants had violated Title VII (and the Railway Labor Act). As to the Title VII claim, the jury found that the plaintiff’s sincerely held religious observances, beliefs, or practices unlawfully motivated: (a) the union to discriminate against her by causing or attempting to cause her discharge; and (b) the airline to end her employment. Additionally, both defendants failed to accommodate the plaintiff’s sincerely held beliefs (and no undue hardship would have prevented it.)
As part of its verdict, the jury awarded the plaintiff $700,000 in lost wages and benefits, $1,000,000 in compensatory damages, and a whopping $3,800,000 in punitive damages.
- Apply work rules evenly. Notice that the plaintiff here never argued that she had carte blanche to proselytize about abortion in the workplace. Instead, she claimed that her employer and her union treated her differently for posting her religious views on abortion than they did others who may have engaged in other online behavior that could violate the company’s social media policy. Had they been applied evenly, the outcome may have changed.
- Title VII prohibits religious discrimination based on an individual’s sincerely held beliefs, whatever they may be. Change the facts of this case a bit. If the plaintiff’s sincerely held beliefs compelled her to share her pro-choice stance online, and the union and employer coordinated to terminate her for doing so, the plaintiff would have prevailed all the same.
- Juries don’t like discrimination, religious or otherwise. This one offered more than 5 million reasons why.