Southwest fired an airline attendant, Charlene Carter, in 2017 after she engaged in a two year campaign sending pro-life messages on social media to the union head. Many of the messages included graphic images. They were, said Southwest at the time, intended to cause emotional harm on the union head. The messages included personal insults. Among the some 100 messages, Ms. Carter claimed the Union board was “Pure Evil.” So, the airline fired Ms. Carter.


Ms. Carter claimed religious discrimination. She sued and won. A Dallas jury awarded her $5 million, which was later reduced to $800,000. Southwest then posted a notice about the trial, as required by the Judge. Judge Brantley Starr, a Trump appointee, ordered Southwest to state in its notice that it may not discriminate. The employer said in the notice that it does not discriminate. There was a dispute about whether the Judge ordered the use of “may” or “does.”


In any event, Judge Brantley Starr, of the Northern District of Texas, was not happy with the notice. He compared the use of “may” to Adam lying to God. The Judge ordered the three Southwest lawyers to take religious freedom classes from the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF is a well-known advocacy legal group opposing abortion. It just recently lost a Supreme Court appeal seeking to ban the use of mifepristone for abortions.

Southwest appealed that order to the Fifth Circuit. The higher court found the sanctions order was more like punishment. Therefore, the court should have followed the procedure for criminal contempt, not civil contempt. Civil contempt is designed to be remedial, not punishment. The lower court’s order, said the Ffth Circuit, will not compensate a flight attendant nor compel compliance with an order not to discriminate. There was no evidence that the three lawyers were involved in the decision to fire Ms. Carter. There is nothing to suggest they hold animus against the plaintiff. Too, such an order likely violates the constitutional rights of the three lawyers themselves.

See ABA Bar Journal report here. Judicial temperament is an important characteristic for all judges. Judges need to keep their cool. Judge Starr appears to have lost his temper at those three Southwest lawyers over a relatively minor issue. Too, requiring religious training from a partisan actor, like the ADF, is rather odd.