Two fired Alaska Airlines flight attendants sued the carrier — and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union — Tuesday, saying they were discriminated against for posting “biblically based” comments to a company message board.
Lawyers for Marli Brown and Lacey Smith said they independently questioned Alaska Airline’s public support for the federal Equality Act, a bill now in Congress that would advance gay rights while removing employer protections granted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“To make matters worse, their union not only failed to vigorously represent and defend Marli and Lacey against the airline’s religious discrimination, but also discriminated against them because of their religious beliefs and actively undermined their ability to assert their federal and state protections against such discrimination,” the lawsuit alleges. The two attendants were let go March 19, 2021.
Ms. Brown was an eight-year veteran of Alaska Airlines, the complaint notes, and had been praised for her “kindness and compassion” two months earlier in the company’s in-flight magazine for attending to an elderly customer making her first flight.
Lacey Smith also had worked for Alaska Airlines for eight years and had an “exemplary” record at work, according to the lawsuit. “During the summer of 2020, Alaska Airlines awarded Lacey a service pin because she had received 50 kudos from passengers,” the complaint stated.
But Ms. Smith got into trouble with her bosses when she posed a question in February 2021 about Alaska Air’s policies on an online company forum: “As a company, do you think it’s possible to regulate morality?”
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Although several employees “liked” her query, it was taken down by management.
According to the complaint, Andy Schneider, the carrier’s senior vice president of people, responded to Ms. Smith saying in part, “Supporting the Equality Act is not about regulating morality. It’s about supporting laws that allow our LGBTQ+ employees and guests, no matter what state they live in or fly to, to be protected against discrimination.”
The complaint quotes Ms. Schneider as saying, “We also expect our employees to live by these same values. … As stated in our People Policies, harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated.”
Neither Alaska Airlines nor the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA responded to several requests for comment.
A second question/comment on the forum brought trouble for Ms. Brown when she asked, “Does Alaska support: endangering the Church, encouraging suppression of religious freedom, obliterating women rights and parental rights? [The Equality Act] will force every American to agree with controversial government-imposed ideology on or be treated as an outlaw.”
Ms. Brown added: “The Equality Act demolishes existing civil rights and constitutional freedoms which threatens constitutional freedoms by eliminating conscience protections from the Civil Rights Act.”
The 54-page legal complaint said the carrier’s political activism left the flight attendants stranded after they expressed their reservations about the company’s agenda. It also says Alaska Air did not remove postings supporting the Equality Act as the “morally right thing to do,” even though it fired Ms. Smith and Ms. Brown for posting their “moral” questions against the measure.
The House passed the Equality Act in February 2021, but the bill has stalled in the Senate.
“Over the past few years, Alaska Airlines dramatically increased its social advocacy for LGBTQ+ causes, while at the same time excluding, silencing and ostracizing employees of faith who hold religious beliefs on issues of sexual morality,” the complaint says. “Alaska Airlines may lawfully engage in social advocacy, but it must not do so in a manner that discriminates or creates a hostile work environment against protected classes.”
The suit details several instances of the carrier stating its inclusivity “regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, age, gender or sexual orientation,” but in each instance omitting religion, which attorneys argue is a protected class under the law.
The complaint also says the flight attendants union provided no support for religious employees in the workplace, despite a 2018-2021 union contract with the carrier that included a “no discrimination” clause listing religion as a “classification protected from discriminatory treatment.”
“Religious flight attendants report that when they file complaints of harassment or report offensive social media posts, the airline and the union dismiss their concerns while at the same time aggressively advocating for employees who raise complaints not based upon religion,” the lawsuit states.
Attorney Stephanie Taub, a senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, the public-interest law firm representing the terminated employees, accused Alaska Airlines of “canceling” the two flight attendants for their faith: “‘Woke’ corporations like Alaska Airlines think that they do not have to follow the law and can fire employees if they simply don’t like their religious beliefs,” she said.