Two flight attendants who sued American Airlines, alleging that they were sexually harassed by male co-workers in Facebook postings, say they will appeal after a Philadelphia judge dismissed their cases.
Faye Riva Cohen, the Philadelphia attorney who represents flight attendants Melissa Chinery and Laura Medlin, said Tuesday that she will file in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in about a week.
“American Airlines is [generally] proactive in disciplining employees who do things that negatively impact the airline, but is dragging its heels in trying to enforce social media [policy] for their employees,” Cohen said.
“I feel [American] has no interest in social media policy,” Cohen said. “They just hang it out there.”
Cohen said the court did not adequately consider the new norms of the modern-day workplace, where social media has replaced lunchrooms and water coolers as sites where workers congregate, but bullying cannot be addressed face-to-face. “People are being bullied [and] there should be repercussions when that occurs,” she said, noting that flight attendants, who work with varying sets of co-workers, are particularly vulnerable.
The two flight attendants filed their case in March 2017 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. At the time, Chinery was based in Philadelphia while Laura Medlin was based in Charlotte. Chinery has since transferred to the Phoenix base. Their cases were consolidated.
The insults were posted within a Facebook group, whose membership is limited to American flight attendants, by a group of four to five Philadelphia-based male flight attendants.
Medlin said she was harassed with insulting terms including “sow,” while Chinery said she was referred to as “flipper,” a synonym for prostitute. Both women said the harassment was related to union activities in support of leaders whom their harassers opposed.
U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno dismissed the cases on August 27, when he granted American’s motions for summary judgement.
In Chinery’s case, Robreno ruled, “Looking at all of the complained of behavior objectively, even that which does not appear connected to gender and instead appears to be related to Chinery’s stance on union issues, the behavior does not amount to severe or pervasive sexual harassment.”
He cited behavior by the four men including posting a photograph of a broken record; referring to Chinery as “flipper,” saying the defendant “did not present a good appearance to passengers [and] allegedly posting a picture of a bedazzled vagina.”
“The court concludes that the complained-of conduct was not so objectively severe or pervasive that it would unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance,” wrote Robreno. He was nominated for his post in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.
Regarding Medlin’s case, Robreno wrote that she alleged sexual harassment on Facebook, between 2012 and 2015, including calling her a “sow” and a “mean girl.”
“While there are a number of serious questions that are raised by Medlin’s claims, including whether the alleged harassment over Facebook was due to her sex rather than her opinions regarding labor unions and whether it actually occurred in a work environment, it is clear that the alleged instances of harassment were not adequately severe or pervasive to establish American’s liability,” Robreno ruled.
American spokesman Matt Miller said the carrier, “is proud to foster a work environment in which all team members are respected.
“When American receives reports of alleged harassment in the workplace, those complaints are investigated and appropriate action is taken,” Miller said.
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