Excerpted from The National Law Review by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Pilot Repeatedly Posted Sexually Explicit Photos of a Flight Attendant to Websites for Years, Federal Agency Charged.
United Airlines, Inc., a Chicago-headquartered international airline operating in over 300 airports across five continents, has agreed to pay $321,000, plus attorney’s fees, to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that, over the course of many years, a United captain frequently posted explicit images of a flight attendant to multiple websites, without her consent, making reference to her name, home airport, and the airline’s tagline “Fly the Friendly Skies.” The EEOC’s suit asserted that the images were seen by co-workers of the flight attendant, as well as untold numbers of potential passengers, causing her humiliation and embarrassment and adversely affecting her work environment.
The EEOC maintained that United failed to prevent and correct the pilot’s behavior, even after the flight attendant made numerous complaints and provided substantial evi¬dence to the airline of the pilot’s conduct. The EEOC asserted that the pilot was allowed to retire with benefits despite initiation of a criminal prosecution by the U.S. attorney’s office under federal internet stalking laws.
Such alleged inaction when an employer is aware of sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including harass¬ment that creates a hostile environment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division (EEOC v. United Airlines, Inc., Civil Action No. 5:18-cv-817) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process.
“Employers are best served when they fulfill their obligation to be diligent in preventing and correcting sexual harassment, whether the offensive conduct takes place in the workplace or involves misconduct by an employee on the internet that affects the work environment,” said Philip Moss, a trial attorney in the EEOC’s San Antonio Field Office. “This resolution can serve to send a message to employers that they should have robust anti-harassment policies that are vigorously self-enforced.”
The consent decree resolving this case, approved by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, requires the company to pay monetary damages of $321,000, plus attorney’s fees for the flight attendant and to provide notice to company employees of their protections under Title VII. The decree further requires the airline to revise its sexual harassment policies explicitly to include harassing conduct perpetrated through the internet or social media and affecting the work environment – whether on or off duty.
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Eduardo Juarez of the EEOC’s San Antonio Field Office explained, “Employers must not ignore harassment complaints simply because the harasser holds a position of authority.”
Robert A. Canino, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Dallas District, added, “This case highlights the issues of employer accountability for harassment in the modern workplace. Employee workdays and jobsites are no longer defined by timecards and the walls of a building, but by the breadth of a digital day and the reach of electronic communications. The policy United has agreed to implement can perhaps serve to provide ideas for other companies adapting to the increased risks posed by employee misuse of technology.”
The flight attendant who intervened in the EEOC’s federal lawsuit was individually represented by attorney Colin Walsh of the Austin, Texas office of Wiley Walsh, P.C.
The San Antonio Field Office is part of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, which is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litiga¬tion in Texas and parts of New Mexico.