United Airlines Pays $321K to Settle Federal Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

United Airlines Pays $321K to Settle Federal Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

After enduring sexual harassment from a pilot for years, a United Airlines flight attendant will receive $321,000 in damages, plus her legal fees, in a settlement between the airline and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). 

Although the woman repeatedly complained about the captain’s behavior and ongoing harassment to the company, nothing was done. The EEOC charged the airline with a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

The harassment included the captain regularly posting “explicit” images of the flight attendant on various websites. The postings included her name, occupation, and the airport out of which she was based. He also added United Airlines’ slogan to the photos – “Fly the Friendly Skies.” 

The pair had been in a consensual relationship for several years, beginning in 2002, which presumably is how the captain obtained the intimate photos. During the time they were together, the woman admitted she allowed the pilot to take “provocative” pictures of her. 

In 2006, she discovered he was posting these photos to websites, including those targeting swingers. She asked him to stop posting the photos, he refused, and she ended their relationship. 

Ten Years of Harassment

The end of the relationship marked the beginning of ten years of increased harassment. In fact, the flight attendant filed three civil lawsuits during that period, and was awarded over $100,000 in damages. The court also issued a permanent injunction against the pilot from posting the photos. However, he ignored the court and continued the frequent postings. 

Humiliation and Embarrassment 

According to the EEOC suit, the posting of the photos without the flight attendant’s consent lead to not only co-workers viewing the graphic images, but also potential passengers. Obviously, she was humiliated and embarrassed, and the situation created an adverse work environment. The flight attendant was aware of at least two colleagues who had seen the partially nude photos. She tried to take routes that this pilot was not flying. 

While she brought her complaints to United Airlines’ human resources department, as well as the company’s general counsel as early as 2011, no action was taken. One of her confidants informed her that this was not an employer sexual harassment situation. The EEOC suit points out that the pilot did indeed have authority over flight attendants. 

According to the lawsuit, the woman suffered stress, loss of self-esteem, emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life due to the ongoing harassment. 

The flight attendant took a leave of absence from her position in 2015. 

Federal Internet Stalking Laws 

In January 2016, United Airlines permitted the pilot to retire on long-term disability, even after he confessed to his behavior and pleaded guilty on federal internet stalking law charges. He received a 41-month prison sentence, and is currently behind bars. One month after his guilty plea, United Airlines allowed him to retire with full benefits.  

Sexual Harassment Policies 

In addition to the settlement, United Airlines will revise its sexual harassment policies to include any type of harassment occurring via the internet or social media. The policy must make it clear that such behavior affects the workplace, no matter if the perpetrator is on or off duty.  

Do you think you were harassed at work or by a co-worker? Visit our workplace harassment FAQ page for more information. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation.) 


Related topics: EEOC (18) | Restaurants & Hospitality (26) | Travel (4) | workplace harassment (66)

Recent articles: