US appeals court stays order forcing Southwest Airline attorneys attend religious liberty training News
Eric Salard, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
US appeals court stays order forcing Southwest Airline attorneys attend religious liberty training

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a stay Friday pending an appeal of a lower court contempt ruling requiring Southwest attorneys to undergo religious liberty training with a conservative special interest group for their actions in a worker’s bias case.

The lower court’s order stems from a contempt proceeding against Southwest for failing to abide by a notice requirement in a religious discrimination lawsuit from a Southwest flight attendant. Previously, Charlene Carter was fired for distributing graphic anti-abortion materials to coworkers in furtherance of her religious beliefs. The notice requirement demanded Southwest post notices informing its workers that the company did not discriminate based on religious beliefs and informing them of their rights under the Railway Labor Act and Title VII.

Pursuant to the order, Southwest emailed the verdict to flight attendants in addition to posting the documents in all flight attendant break rooms. Southwest also published “an internal memo stating that Southwest believed Carter’s messages were ‘inappropriate, harassing, and offensive,’ ‘extremely graphic,’ and in ‘violation of several company policies.'”

Carter motioned for the lower court to sanction Southwest for its actions and the court granted a contempt ruling ordering the company to post a “verbatim” statement to set the record straight with employees and requiring the company’s in-house attorneys to attend religious liberty training with the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The appeals court ruled that there was a “strong likelihood that the contempt order exceeded the district court’s civil contempt authority.” The court agreed with Southwest that the training would not “compel compliance with the order,” a basis for courts issuing orders in contempt proceedings, and found the order to be punitive. As a result, the court paused the order pending the appeal holding that the “punitive sanctions had likely [exceeded] the scope of the court’s civil-contempt authority.”

The appeal for the judgment against Southwest itself in the underlying case is still pending.