Alaska Airlines fired flight attendants for saying Democrat transgender bill harms women

EEOC complaints say union refused to defend their employment rights against religious discrimination, "disparaged" their Christian beliefs.

Published: September 9, 2021 6:50pm

Updated: September 12, 2021 10:44pm

Alaska Airlines fired flight attendants for questioning its support of a proposed federal law that would open women's spaces to biological males, according to complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Their union, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, allegedly refused to defend their Title VII employment rights against religious discrimination during the proceeding and "disparaged" the employees' Christian beliefs.

The Seattle-based air carrier, which once decorated a plane with the logo of Nirvana's first music label Sub Pop, did not respond to queries from Just the News about the allegations and why employees shouldn't fear official retaliation for expressing their views.

AFA-CWA didn't respond either when asked if Christians and gender-critical union members, who believe sex can't be changed, will presumptively not receive a robust defense from the union when airlines investigate them for their speech. 

Passage of the Equality Act has been a top priority for House and Senate Democrats this session. The lower chamber quickly approved the bill in February, but it has remained stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee since March.

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The gender-critical Women's Liberation Front (WoLF) has warned that the bill would make "self-declared gender identity ... sufficient to claim protected legal status," without being diagnosed with gender dysphoria or taking hormones to better resemble the opposite sex.

It would make women powerless against biological males sharing their restrooms and domestic violence shelters, or even strip-searching or supervising them in the shower, the group said.

"This case is another great example of how corporations are often the new arbiters of free speech" and shows "true intolerance," WoLF director of communications Mary Kate Fain wrote in an email to Just the News. "If corporations wish to invite comments from employees on this subject in the workplace, it is ridiculous to punish women for merely raising questions or concerns about the consequences of such a policy."

First Liberty Institute is representing both flight attendants, though only Lacey Smith is named in the EEOC complaints. It left the second client unnamed due to "her preference," a spokesperson for the public interest law firm told Just the News.

"The corporate 'canceling' of our clients by Alaska Airlines makes a mockery of laws that protect religious Americans from employment discrimination," litigation director David Hacker said. "Every American should be frightened if an employer can fire them for simply asking questions based on their religious beliefs about culturally important issues."

No religious accommodation 

Both flight attendants allege they were terminated for raising "religious concerns in a forum created by the airline to facilitate discussion about the company's policies."

Alaska Airlines announced its support for the Equality Act on the carrier's internal Alaska World network on the same day the House passed it. Wondering whether this meant Alaska supported discrimination against employees with different beliefs, Smith responded with a question: "As a company, do you think it's possible to regulate morality?" 

More than a dozen employees liked her question on the forum, and a senior vice president, Andy Schneider, responded by disputing that the Equality Act sought to regulate morality. It's about supporting laws that protect Alaska's LGBTQ customers against discrimination, he wrote, according to screenshots in the complaint.

"We also expect our employees to live by these same values ... harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated," Schneider said. That afternoon the comments by Smith and Schneider were removed, and Alaska pulled her from "my line."

Smith's in-flight supervisor called her to a meeting two weeks later that included human resources and a union representative, who argued only the company violated its Alaska World policy with regard to Smith's comment.

In that meeting Smith distinguished between supporting equality and the Equality Act, and called her question "quintessentially religious." The officials "gave the impression" that she must conform her religious beliefs to the company's version of morality.

The following week Smith received a termination letter that she said illustrates the "hostility pervasive" at the carrier toward employees with traditional religious views on sexuality. Alaska said she violated harassment and "personal conduct" rules with her "discriminatory statement" that characterized gender identity as a moral issue and "questioning the Company's support for the rights of all people."

The second client posted her comment after seeing Schneider respond to Smith's, her complaint claims. It was longer and accusatory, asking if Alaska supported "endangering the Church, encouraging suppression of religious freedom, obliterating women [sic] rights and parental rights?" The Equality Act would give "sexual predators ... easy access to victims," she said.

Alaska took down her comment for allegedly violating its posting policy, which she protested in a response email. HR and a union rep met her at the plane when she landed the next evening in Seattle, putting her on leave for two weeks pending investigation.

Her meeting took place a week earlier than Smith's, and it included two union officials. The client explained her comment and formally requested a religious accommodation to "politely express" her beliefs, just as Alaska lets a person express beliefs rooted in sexual orientation. She received a termination letter the same day as Smith, with the same violations.

The grievance hearings for both flight attendants ignored their requests for religious accommodations, and both said the union betrayed them.

Smith faced "hostile questioning" from a union lawyer at a pre-screening arbitration meeting, the union never defended her right to "post a question on the same basis as others," and it backed out of her defense during the grievance process, she said. 

The second client's allegations are far more detailed. The union limited its defense to her "good employment record" and challenged her interpretation of the Equality Act, with the lawyer "repeatedly roll[ing] her eyes" during the pre-screening. Union reps also gave her false information about the process and even compared her comment to "hit[ting] someone in the face on an airplane."

Alaska's refusal to let religious employees speak on the same terms as others creates a hostile work environment and shows "they are not welcome" at the company, the complaints allege. The company posted in Alaska World in April about the respect and equal opportunity due to every person based on an exhaustive list of protected characteristics, they said, but notably left out one: religion.

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