Vacclav / | Inset: First Liberty Institute / YouTube

Two former airline employees are suing Alaska Airlines and their union, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), after allegedly being fired for their religious beliefs and pushback against the company’s support of the Equality Act. The trouble began in 2021 when flight attendants Marli Brown and Laci Smith received a notice on their online company board page. “I went to access my schedule in the morning … I saw that Alaska had posted an article that just said Alaska supports the Equality Act,” Smith told Fox News Digital. The Equality Act sought to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. At the time, the vagueness of the bill left Smith with a lot of questions. “For me personally, I have traditional Christian views on sexual morality: male and female, all of that. I wanted to know what that meant for me as an employee with Alaska Airlines supporting the Equality Act,” she said. 

Brown and Smith responded to the post on an employee message board. Brown argued that the bill would force “every American to agree with controversial government-imposed ideology or be treated as an outlaw.” Smith asked the company if they “thought it was possible to regulate morality.” The comment received a response from Alaska Airlines VP of People, Andy Schneider, whom court documents claim said, “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.” Smith alleges her post and the comment were later deleted and that she was called in for “something that I had posted online.” Both Smith and Brown were investigated by airline officials and eventually terminated. The Freedom Liberty Institute (FLI), which is representing Smith, alleges that she was fired “because [Alaska Airlines] perceived her moral beliefs about gender identity or sexual orientation to be discriminatory.” According to court documents, “Alaska Airlines VP of Inflight testified that an employee’s use of the term ‘opposite sex’ violates the Airlines’ discrimination policy because that implies that there are only two sexes.” Alaska Airlines has not commented on that allegation. 

Smith states that AFA did not accurately defend her after requesting “religious accommodation” during her firing. Court documents further allege that agents from the AFA, including AFA Master Executive Council President Jeff Peterson, reported their comments on the forum to Alaska Airlines, requesting discipline. According to the motion, “Peterson repeatedly referred to Marli and Lacey as ‘bigots;’ he drew Alaska Airlines’ attention to Plaintiffs’ comments; he told a friend ‘I hate [Lacey];’ and he told others he supported her discipline.” The AFA has denied the allegations. 

Stephanie Taub, head of FLI legal counsel, stated the discussion came at a time of the company’s “major DEI push.” Airlines and airplane manufacturers have been receiving tight scrutiny of their support of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies after a window blew out of a Boeing 737-9 aircraft during an Alaskan Airlines flight, resulting in an emergency landing. Conservative commentators pointed to Boeing’s recent change from focusing on incentives for safety and quality to focusing on DEI and climate targets. Conservatives have also alleged that airlines are hiring less qualified candidates simply to “check a few boxes.” “I would be terrified if I got onto a plane, and I saw a woman flying the plane, and I know that we have the United CEO saying that he just wants to fulfill a quota. He just wants there to be more women and wants there to be more Black people and he’s not concerned at first with qualifications. That is something that should alarm all of us guys,” said conservative commentator Candace Owens on her show. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, Smith stated on Fox News that the inability to express opinions leads to ignorance and tyranny. “I don’t know how we got here as a nation to where somebody can’t bring up their own questions about morality without losing their job. But that’s where we’re at.”

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