Last Thursday a jury in Dallas, Texas awarded a former flight attendant Five Million Dollars against her former employer and union after they colluded to fire her in violation of Title VII because she shared her pro-life beliefs with her co-workers. Specifically, the plaintiff, Ms. Carter, alleged 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, Southwest Airlines, violated Title VII when it did fire her because of her pro-life social media content.
Ms. Carter argued that the defendants treated her less favorably than similarly situated co-workers who did not share their pro-life views and that they failed to accommodate her religious beliefs. The jury agreed and awarded Ms. Carter $700,000 in lost wages, $1,000,000 in compensatory damages, and $3,800,000 in punitive damages.
How can you make sure that you don’t ever have to pay a former employee this kind of money?
- Apply your work rules and policies consistently. Had the defendants treated all violations of their social media policies equally, the outcome may have been different.
- Title VII does not just protect politically correct beliefs or those that an employer agrees with, it protects all sincerely held religious beliefs, even those that may offend. Title VII requires employers to accommodate those beliefs.
- If you can’t effectively document that you did numbers 1 and 2, a jury is probably not going to believe you.
People’s beliefs and views on many significant issues seem to be more polarized now than ever. Employers often must put their personal views on these issues aside and protect employees who advocate views that they don’t necessarily agree with. This is not easy, but it is often required by the law.