Fired Muslim Flight Attendant Wants Supreme Court To Let Her Sue For Having To Serve Drinks

A fired flight attendant who worked for defunct ExpressJet Airlines is asking the Supreme Court to review a 6th Circuit decision that didn’t allow her to sue for requiring her to serve alcohol to passengers even though she’s Muslim.

ExpressJet was a regional carrier owned by United Airlines that had been a part of Continental, inherited from the original mess of airlines acquired by Texas Air in the mid-1980s (that included Eastern and People Express in addition to Continental). They were spun off in 2002, sold to Atlantic Southeast a decade ago, and then reacquired in 2017. United ceased down the Embraer ERJ-145 operation at the end of last month.

The regional carrier no longer flies, but its corporate affairs – including this potential Supreme Court case – continue. The case poses two interesting questions:

  • Does the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-union relations and requires that disputes go to arbitration, trump the right to sue in the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

  • Does requiring an airline to re-open a union contract constitute an undue hardship that would exempt them from making a religious accommodation for a flight attendant over serving alcohol?

While the flight attendant claims the airline provided an accommodation by having another crewmember serve alcoholic drinks to passengers united a “bigoted co-worker” complained, the airline says they can’t actually make another flight attendant take on extra duties under their collective bargaining agreement. A complaint they received put a stop to the accommodation, because it infringed on the rights of the flight attendant’s colleagues under the CBA.

In her petition for a writ of certiorari, Charee Stanley said the Sixth Circuit erred when it found that the Railway Labor Act, which compels arbitration for rail and airline employees, overrules Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The RLA’s arbitrators can only iron out contract disputes, and the law was not intended to box out federal civil rights claims like hers, she said.

…Stanley, who started at ExpressJet in 2013 not long after she converted to Islam, said that when she first raised concerns about preparing and selling alcohol due to her religion, the airline had another flight attendant prepare the drinks so she wouldn’t have to, her petition said.

But after just two and a half months of this, the airline quit offering the accommodations “following complaints from a bigoted co-worker” and eventually fired her, according to her petition.

If the Court takes up the petition we’ll get an interesting decision on how federal labor law interacts with federal discrimination law. So far ExpressJet has prevailed at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (which dismissed the claim) and the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (which supported the belief that the RLA arbitration clause is controlling and that ExpressJet’s CBA wouldn’t allow an accommodation).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Knowing the job description is nothing to do with pushing for a change that’s “right”. Having said that I’m Muslim as well and dont see the issue with serving drinks to others (their beliefs are their business as long as the job doesn’t require me to taste test). Dont think there is much of a case here…

  2. This is absurd. Religion is the biggest farce ever imparted on humankind. It is time to end all tax breaks and accommodations for spaghetti monster woshippers.

  3. So she’s not required to declare a religion that inhibits her carrying out her duties when she applies, then, once, hired, can decide that she doesn’t like the duties she was hired to do.

    One can only slowly shake one’s head, and pour another JD.

  4. This is a fundamental problem within our society today, people like this young lady filing a frivolous lawsuit in hopes of getting a ” just go away” settlement. If her religion was so important to her then why did she take the job in the first place knowing that serving drinks was an intricate part of her position? I If I am not mistaken Saudi Air is the only non alcohol serving airline flying? ( Major carrier).

    So if the airline was serving pork barbecue sandwiches would she then refuse that as well?

    Wasted space in the courts.

  5. What an idiot, I’ve heard everything!!! Get lost and get a job that fits your lifestyle, whatever that is. She should be fined for wasting the courts time

  6. What responsibilities did the employee pick up to compensate? So many companies push the accommodation on a coworker to take on extra responsibilities without rebalancing workloads.

  7. Although I respect someone’s choice of religion however, if she knew she was not going to be accommodated and most airlines serve alcohol then she should have A. Found and airline which doesn’t serve alcohol or B. Find another job which doesn’t involve serving it. Nor different if she applied for a job at a bar as a waitress. Hello.

  8. As Muslims, we are not allowed to pour, nor sell, nor gift, nor serve Alcohol. It’s not just “to drink or not to drink”. Same thing for pork.

    But even then, it was unwise to take on such a job. Being a flight attendant was my dream job but the issue of managing the 5 daily prayers, and fasting during Ramadan, and serving alcohol or pork products, I don’t understand why would any true Muslim work for a USA air carrier since it carries alot of complications. Im not trying to suggest that she has a malicious agenda to make big settlement money, but this sounds fishy. Also it seems she was a female, so she’d probably have to observe the headscarf and hijab, which I can imagine many airlines being unhappy about, when I used to work at the airport, I’ve heard the stories of how strict airlines are about flight attendant attires.

    Sis, ya need to find a better field of work.

  9. My religion forbids me to work on any day that ends with a “y”. My employer thinks that is unreasonable so now I am compelled to go to court to fight for my rights.

  10. Where does it stop? That wasn’t made aware to her? She was never on a flight to witness FA’s serve drinks? Zero use for these people who want special treatment based on their religious beliefs. Also, while I’m at it, why does a corporation have to comply with the government on its hiring policy? ie, FA standards.

  11. Religious freedoms should mostly be confined to your own home. If you take a job that requires you to do something or work a day you don’t want to, that is your problem and not the companies.

    We’ve let things go too far. They aren’t forcing the person to eat/drink something they don’t want, but simply serve it. If that bothers the person, get another job.

    It is one thing to make reasonable accommodations for someone with a disability but there is no need to do it for this person.

  12. @ShaveThatThing
    Nice, another moronic comment from a Trumpster trying to blame the Democrats. Nice try, but you just look stupid.
    As to the lawsuit, given the right-wing nature of our Supreme Court you can start to expect religious objections to just about everything secular to be upheld.
    Religion should be practiced like sex, E.G only in privacy and with one or more consenting adults.

  13. To all who said she knew what she signed up for, as a reason for her to be fired, I would point out a very important comparison for you to parse.

    In some states, a pharmacist can refuse to serve a customer asking for R238 pills. The states say that as long as there are other pharmacies in proximity, he can refuse. Care to tell me how this is different, other than having an opportunity to get off on muslims?

  14. Seriously inappropriate language from @ShaveThatThing no matter what your take on the issue. Being conservative at one time included use of language. Can’t imagine Buckley . . .

  15. As with Kim Davis, the marriage clerk in Kentucky who would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, claiming it violated her religious beliefs …

    If you have strong beliefs that you feel prohibit you from carrying out certain job functions, you should not accept a job that requires you to perform those functions.

  16. Americans make way too many “Accomodations”. In other countries this is just not done. Stop at the local Hardware store / mall / grocery store. There is a special parking place for Mothers to be, Veterans, those with small children, Elderly, Handicap. Employee of the month, etc. We try to treat everyone like they are “Special”. We give trophies to every kid in the Little Leagues regardless of how they did. Muslims need to realize they CAN NOT work at a place that servers booze. Just like a Kosher Jew does not work at Porkys Sandwich Shop. A fundamentalist Christen can not work at a gay shop either.

  17. @Alan:

    By that logic, the airline should make any flight she serves in “alcohol free” as long as there are other flights passengers can take who want alcohol served? I wonder how that would work – some flights will be alcohol/pork free; some will be beef free if there is a Hindu flight attendant, some will actually be totally meat/alcohol free and so on! One would need to check the fine print for every flight based on crew schedules – and what if there are IRROPS?

    Is that what you want the airline to do – similar to your pharmacy example?

  18. That FA knew the job description was clearly stated in the terms of hiring contract. Handling and serving alcohol is part of the job description. The FA should not receive any compensation.

    That said Muslim Indonesian maids in Malaysia will handle pork in Chinese kitchens and Musllim Malays will handle indigenous ceremonial alcohol (tuak). Same for smoking. So, I think hiding behind a religion is just a self imposed bias.

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