A federal judge cut a flight attendant’s $5.1 million jury award to about $800,000 but ordered Southwest Airlines to rehire the woman, who had claimed that the airline and her union conspired to fire her for expressing opposition to abortion.
U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr said in a ruling issued Monday that she reduced Charlene Carter’s award to comply with federal limits on punitive damages that companies can be required to pay.
Carter charged that she was fired after sending strongly worded messages to the president of the flight attendants’ union to complain that the official had attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January 2017. She called the union leader “despicable.”
The president of Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union did not respond to that and other messages, but Southwest summoned Carter to a meeting and later fired her.
A Dallas jury ruled in Carter’s favor in July, deciding that Southwest should pay Carter $4.15 million and the union should pay $950,000.
The judge this week reduced that award to $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from Southwest and $300,000 from the union, $150,000 in back pay and about $60,000 in interest.
In ordering Southwest to reinstate Carter this week, the judge made a reference to a line in Southwest advertising campaigns.
“Bags fly free with Southwest. But free speech didn’t fly at all with Southwest in this case,” Starr wrote.