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."