Judge doubles down on Southwest "religious-liberty training" sanctions order
Judge Starr refused to put the sanctions on hold while the airline appeals, called questions about requiring the training from a far-right group a "gripe."
U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr stood by his “religious-liberty training” sanctions in a late-night filing on Thursday night, denying Southwest Airlines a stay of the sanctions order while they appeal it.
The 23-page opinion and order is just the latest step in the twisting case — where the Texas judge earlier this summer held Southwest Airlines in contempt for their response to a post-trial order from 2022 in a religious discrimination case brought by a flight attendant years before that.
As part of that contempt order, Starr required “religious-liberty training” for three of the airlines’ lawyers. Those lawyers, he had determined, were most responsible for a post-trial notice sent to flight attendants. Although the airline had been ordered to tell the flight attendants that it “may not” discriminate against flight attendants on the basis of their religious practices and beliefs, it instead sent out a notice that it “does not” discriminate — along with the judgment and jury verdict in the case — and a memorandum about “civility.”
This, from Starr’s vantagepoint, “[u]nsurprisingly” led to sanctions, as he wrote in Thursday’s ruling.
Southwest is appealing the sanctions order and asked Starr to put the sanctions on hold pending that appeal.
Starr had issued a 30-day administrative stay on Aug. 17 to allow him and any appeals court time to consider Southwest’s stay request. In Thursday’s ruling, he noted that that 30-day administrative stay remains in effect — Friday is day 15 — which will allow the airline time to seek a stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In their argument for the stay to Starr, the airline argued both that contempt wasn’t appropriate here at all and that the order violates the Airline’s First Amendment rights. Additionally, they argued that the judge only “exacerbated” the problem by ordering that the “religious-liberty training” come from the Alliance Defending Freedom, an extremist ideological legal advocacy organization.
Thursday night, Starr — a Trump appointee who is a former senior lawyer in the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the nephew of Ken Starr, and a Federalist Society member — didn’t only deny their stay request, he reinforced his initial “religious-liberty training” order and kept going.
“The Court hopes that, once Southwest is armed with a better understanding of religious liberty, no further Court intervention will be necessary,“ Starr wrote of his sanctions.
Starr doubled and tripled down on his arguments made in the sanctions order, stating on Thursday that “the instant briefing [on the stay request] shows that religious-liberty training is more necessary now than ever before.” He went on to insist that “Southwest still hasn’t acknowledged that the [‘civility’] memo’s mandated adherence to Southwest policies … undermined the Court-ordered notice.”
In sum, he wrote, “Southwest’s lawyers misunderstand the relationship between their policies and Title VII. They direly need religious-liberty training.”
As to the choice of ADF specifically to do the training, Starr in no way explained why or how he selected them — they had not in any way been a part of the case and the plaintiff in the case had not even sought “religious-liberty training” in her contempt motion — but he did instead mock the airline for even raising the issue, calling it a “gripe.”
Southwest is almost certain to appeal.
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