Alaska Airlines Accused of 'Canceling' Flight Attendants for Voicing Religious Beliefs

Two fired Alaska Airlines flight attendants who said they were let go after they questioned the company's support of the Equality Act have filed a complaint against the airline alleging discrimination.

Represented by First Liberty, a law firm that defends religious liberties, the charge was filed in the Seattle field office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 18 on behalf of the former flight attendants.

The federal complaint alleges that the company unfairly retaliated against employees Lacey Smith and another flight attendant, who wished to remain anonymous, after they questioned the airlines' backing of the passage of the Equality Act.

Former Alaska Airlines employee Lacey Smith.
Lacey Smith. Photo courtesy of First Liberty Institute. First Liberty Institute

Alaska Airlines said in a notice of discharge for Smith, that "defining gender identity or sexual orientation as a moral issue ... is ... a discriminatory statement," according to First Liberty. That was after Smith asked, "As a company, do you think it's possible to regulate morality?" She made the query in an online company forum, which was public for employees and where they were invited to comment. While apparently several Alaska Airlines employees expressed that they liked Smith's comment, it was subsequently taken down.

Likewise, the other dismissed employee reportedly asked, "Does Alaska support: endangering the Church, encouraging suppression of religious freedom, obliterating women rights and parental rights? ..."

It was after the two made the comments that Smith and the other employee said they were fired.

"The corporate canceling of Lacey Smith and the other flight attendant really makes a mockery of federal civil rights law that protects religious Americans from discrimination in the workplace," David Hacker, attorney and director of litigation for First Liberty, told Newsweek. "If we can't do what our federal civil rights say then they don't really mean anything."

While Newsweek reached out to Alaska Airlines for comment, there was no response prior to the publishing of this article. It is not immediately known why the company had brought up or was addressing the Equality Act.

Stan Deal and Diana Birkett Rakow.
Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, with Diana Birkett Rakow, Vice President of public Affairs and Sustainability of Alaska Airlines, speaks about Boeing's ecoDemonstrator program at Washington Reagan National Airport in Arlington Virginia on July 28, 2021. OLIVIER DOULIERY/Getty

"I was shocked that the airline I loved working for fired me for asking a question about something the airline asked us to support," Smith told Newsweek. The former employee had worked there for almost eight years. "I thought my question would receive the same level of respect that I give to others. It's frightening to think that Americans can lose their jobs for simply asking questions about important issues."

The Equality Act, known as House Resolution 5, was introduced to Congress in February of this year. The House of Representatives passed the Act by a vote of 224 to 206 on Feb. 25. The bill then moved on to the Senate where its fate is uncertain.

For years, Alaska has advocated for the Equality Act and pushed for full equality for LGBTQ+ individuals and families across the country. It’s time to get this done. Learn more: #FlyWithPride #iFlyAlaska #EqualityAct

— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) February 23, 2021

The bill was one that President Biden said would be one of his top legislative priorities during his first 100 days in office. On his first day as President, he signed an Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.

The bill itself prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment housing, credit and the jury system. It more specifically defines and includes sex, sexual orientation and gender identity among prohibited categories of discrimination and segregation.

While the Equality Act has broad support among Democrats, controversy has surrounded the aspect that prohibits an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, locker room and dressing room that is in accordance with the individual's gender identity. Those that oppose it also fear it would infringe upon religious objections.

"It would change and negatively impact the protections Americans already have under the laws," said Hacker.