UA In The Muck Again For Flight Attendant Firings

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Ruben Lee, one of the fired flight attendants

United Airlines continues to find new and innovative ways to shoot itself in the foot.

The beleaguered carrier was recently involved in a court case that many might feel should have been avoided, if only to avoid more bad publicity after a couple of years of negative incidents involving pax and pets.

Here’s the latest:

Flight attendants Jeanne Stroup and Ruben Lee worked for UA for a combined 70+ years. They both had extremely good employment records. Then they were on a flight from Denver to San Francisco in September 2013.

Their lawsuit says that they were suddenly fired for watching an iPad for 15 minutes during the flight -- and for not wearing an apron when they were serving passengers. The plaintiffs alleged that those ‘infractions’ were simply an excuse to get rid of aging employees.

Last week, a jury decided that their firing was unfair. So unfair that Stroup was awarded $200,000 in damages and Lee $190,000. But that wasn’t the end of it.

The flight attendant pair’s lawyer David Lane describes the testimony of a UA supervisor:

"And I said, 'In the hierarchy of rule violations, these are pretty ticky-tacky.' He said, 'I don't agree.' I said, 'For example, watching an iPad for a few minutes is certainly less serious than lighting a campfire in the bathroom of a flight when it's at 35,000 feet.' And he said, 'No, I disagree with that.' I said, 'Seriously? You think lighting a campfire in the bathroom is as serious as watching an iPad for a few minutes?' And he said, 'Yes.'"

The jury didn’t seem to like those responses and decided United's behavior was willful -- so it doubled the back-pay damages and suddenly the amount became $820,000.

Lane sounded almost magnanimous on describing his clients' victory -- which will see United pay his costs, too. 

"We're not alleging United has a pattern and practice of age discrimination," he told Westword. "But in this particular case, they tried to make an example out of a couple of older flight attendants, and it backfired on them."

UA says it is reviewing its options to appeal.

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