United Airlines sacked six senior flight attendants for what it claims was the bullying of a junior flight attendant. These six flight attendants have now sued United, claiming that long-established disciplinary protocols were not followed and that age discrimination is the true culprit for their job termination.
Age Discrimination Or Bullying? Lawsuit Pits United Airlines Against Six Senior Flight Attendants
A group of about 50 Newark-based flight attendants were part of a WhatsApp group. The group was only open to pursers. On March 6, 2021, the conversation turned to one particular junior flight attendant, who had made it a practice to photograph flight attendants who were not wearing their masks and then post it on Facebook.
Some nasty things were said.
Someone in the WhatsApp group breached the agreement not to share conversations outside the group and sent screenshots to United. United responded by investigating then firing six of the flight attendants for bullying, harassment, and retaliation.
Now these six flight attendants are suing for their jobs back. They claim that United ignored its “progressive discipline” system and fired them for a first offense that a junior flight attendant would not have been fired for. The lawsuit contends:
“Plaintiffs’ age was a motivating factor in United’s actions. But for their age, plaintiffs would not have been terminated from their employment or received undue harsh discipline.”
United Airlines told Paddle Your Own Kanoo:
“United Airlines has zero tolerance for bullying or harassment in the workplace and we intend to vigorously defend our position.”
My Thoughts On The Case
While it is too early to tell who is right or wrong, I have a few thoughts about the case:
- United should have a right to fire instantly any flight attendant who bullies a colleague
- I hated wearing a mask too, but United had a right to require its flight attendants to wear one, regardless of whether a federal mask mandate was in effect at the time
- If United treated similar cases in different ways based upon the age or longevity of a flight attendant, then United loses the case (and should lose the case)
That last point is key. Will these flight attendants be able to prove that United singled them out for punishment because of their age? Was this part of a grand conspiracy to cull older flight attendants to reduce payroll costs?
I don’t know. Could be. Targeting older flight attendants with stricter application of the same rule is not okay.
Six United flight attendants are suing United, claiming they were terminated based upon their age, not their alleged bullying. While United generally does not comment on pending litigation, here it defends its decision and says it will vigorously defend it in court. The key to the case will be whether United treated flight attendants the same who were accused of bullying or whether these particular flight attendants were treated differently, ostensibly due to their age.