When does a joke cross from crass to simply inappropriate? When does it becomes grounds for a lawsuit. Those are the leading questions emerging from a flight attendant lawsuit against Southwest Airlines.
For Renee Steinaker, a Southwest flight attendant of 21 years, February 27, 2017 changed her life forever. It was on that day she claims to have witnessed what she thought was a live streaming video from the airline lavatory onboard her flight from Baltimore to Phoenix.
If you are unfamiliar with the facts of the case, you can review both posts below:
More facts have emerged this week. It seems virtually certain there was no video feed in the lavatory. Instead, a rather cruel “joke” was played on Steinaker.
Attorney vs. Attorney
An attorney for the pilots explained:
Southwest Airlines has never placed cameras and never videoed anyone in any lavatory, and the pilots on Flight 1088 did not video anyone. The incident, which occurred over two years ago, was a poor attempt at humor where the pilot took a selfie video from the chest up, fully clothed, in the lavatory of a completely different airplane months before Flight 1088 and then replayed the exact same selfie video on his iPad when Ms. Steinaker came into the cockpit.
All crew members, including the flight attendants, were debriefed on and informed of such by Southwest Airlines after a thorough investigation was conducted by Southwest Airlines that revealed no corroboration of the flight attendant’s allegations
Meanwhile, Steinaker’s attorney did not exactly dispute that account:
I am not aware of the facts of whether or not they did those things. I am concerned because that was crucial evidence that was made obvious to the management and whether or not they met their obligation to preserve that evidence is completely unknown to me at this point.
A Cruel Joke?
Speaking to the Arizona Republic, Steinaker said:
With my every being — every bit of myself — I knew this was wrong. And I could not let something like this go. I knew it was the right thing to do to report it…This was not a joke. There’s nothing about this whatsoever that was humorous behavior. It’s sexual harassment, hostile work environment and it’s safety concerns.
This now is the crux of the case. It’s no longer about voyeurism or emotional distress from an incident that did not actually occur. Rather, it is about whether a joke that went too far constituted sexual harassment.
Steinaker has gone on a media frenzy this week promoting her lawsuit. That has caused an escalating battle between her legal defense team and Southwest. There are elements of #MeToo at play. But at the heart of this case is a question: when does a practical joke go too far?