American Flight Attendant Called 'Sow' Claims Bias Via Facebook

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By Patrick Dorrian

Nov. 2 — Male flight attendants with American Airlines sexually harassed a female colleague via social media, including calling her a “sow,” a lawsuit filed in federal court in Pennsylvania claims ( Medlin v. Am. Airlines , E.D. Pa., No. 2:16-cv-05708, complaint filed 11/1/16 ).

Laura Medlin says the “campaign of harassment” started after she resigned from a union position and that it was carried out over various social media outlets, including Facebook. She complained to human resources about the harassment, but the company neglected to enforce its social media use policy for employees, despite her repeated requests, and apparently never disciplined the workers who harassed her, Medlin alleges.

Discrimination against employees via social media, including sexual and other harassment, is an issue that has caught the attention of federal enforcement authorities, and it exposes employers to potential monetary and other legal liability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws, held a meeting on the issue in March 2014.

An employee rights attorney said during the meeting that personal social media accounts can sometimes play a part in workplace harassment.

“The issue is further complicated as more employers use a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy, in which they require or expect employees to use personal laptops, smartphones, or other technology while on the job,” Lynne Bernabei of Bernabei & Wachtel PLLC in Washington told the EEOC.

Policy Not Enforced, Plaintiff Charges

According to the complaint, American’s social media policy warned employees to be aware of their off-duty conduct and to show respect for co-workers when using social media, including refraining from making disparaging comments. The policy further warned that employees should avoid publicly posting anything that could potentially embarrass the employee or the airline.

Despite the policy, a group of male flight attendants in Philadelphia took to Facebook and other outlets to harass Medlin by calling her names and making disparaging comments about her, the complaint alleges. Male co-workers were not similarly harassed via social media, according to the complaint.

Medlin says she sent an e-mail to human resources in May 2015 complaining about the harassment, but never received a response. Further contact with HR in September 2015 resulted in her leaving a voicemail that wasn’t returned for two weeks. Even then, the HR specialist simply apologized for not getting back to her sooner and said he would be in touch “shortly,” the complaint asserts.

She reached out to the HR specialist two more times, but he did little more than apologize for the delay, Medlin alleges. When she still hadn’t heard anything from the company by July 2016, Medlin filed a charge with the EEOC.

Not only were her harassers apparently not disciplined, they also apparently were subsequently promoted, Medlin charges.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“We just received the complaint and are looking into the allegations,” Matt Miller, an American Airlines spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 2.Faye Riva Cohen in Philadelphia represents Medlin. No attorney has filed an appearance yet for American Airlines.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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