I promised you a doozy today, and I plan to deliver!
About a year ago, a federal jury in Texas concluded that a flight attendant’s sincerely-held religious beliefs (specifically, those underpinning her pro-life stance on abortion) unlawfully motivated her labor union and employer to discriminate against her.
How mad was the jury? It awarded the plaintiff over $5 million.
While the court later reduced the award to under a million, it did require the airline to reinstate the plaintiff. It also ordered the airline to notify its flight attendants of Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination.
Specifically, the court ordered the airline “to inform [its] flight attendants that, under Title VII, [the airline] may not discriminate against [its] flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.”
Rather than do just that, the airline dug a bigger hole for itself.
It notified flight attendants: “[t]he court  ordered us to inform you that [this airline] does not discriminate against our Employees for their religious practices and beliefs.”
In a blistering 29-page decision, the court condemned the airline’s unilateral decision to modify the notice requirements as the airline’s way of communicating to its employees “that there’s nothing to see here—aside from the Court’s bequeathing [the airline] a badge of honor for not discriminating (which the Court did not do).”
To further emphasize its point, the court first got biblical:
After God told Adam, “[Y]ou must not eat from the tree [in the middle of the garden],”imagine Adam telling God, “I do not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden”—while an apple core rests at his feet
Followed by a Lord of the Rings metaphor:
Or where Gandalf bellows, “You shall not pass,” the Balrog muses, “I do not pass,” while strolling past Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.
Before ultimately ordering the airline to publish a revised notice to its employees, which confirms, among other things, that the airline “may not discriminate against [its] flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs, including—but not limited to—those expressed on social media and those concerning abortion.”
But the court wasn’t done yet. Oh, it got worse.
Resolved that the airline “has long harbored the view—during trial, after the verdict, and (as evinced by its memo to flight attendants) even after the judgment—that its policies on civility trump federal laws like Title VII,” the court sent a message to the airline to that it may “understand, when communicating with its employees, that federal protections for religious freedom override any company civility policy.”
And how did it do that? By ordering the airline to have three of its lawyers complete 8 hours of religious-liberty training by August 28, 2023.
I’m no theologian and I’m not much into Lord of the Rings, but I do know that a wise man once said, “When a sign says do not feed the bears, man, you’d better not feed the bears.”
On the heels of a $5 million jury verdict, when a judge orders you to do something, you do it—the first time.
And take Title VII’s rules and requirements seriously!