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United Airlines failed to take appropriate steps when one of its pilots continually posted on the internet intimate photos and videos of an ex-girlfriend, a flight attendant, despite her repeated pleas for help, the federal government alleges.
The Aug. 9 lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission comes one day after the agency separately sued five other employers for alleged workplace harassment. Freeing American workers from abusive comments and similar mistreatment based on sex, race, or some other protected trait is one of the EEOC’s highest enforcement priorities.
The agency alleges that Mark Uhlenbrock, a captain who had supervisory authority over flight attendants, posted the nude and other provocative images on pornographic and other websites for more than a decade. Some of the postings contained identifying information about the flight attendant, including her occupation, home airport, affiliation with United, and name, the EEOC says in its complaint. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Antonio.
The flight attendant, who is unnamed in the complaint, had dated Uhlenbrock for four years and consented to having most of the photos taken. But she didn’t agree to share them publicly and ended her relationship with the pilot after discovering what he was up to. She began complaining to United about the cyberstalking in May 2011, reporting Uhlenbrock to the airline’s in-flight base operations manager at Dulles Airport and to an in-flight supervisor, the EEOC says.
A United spokesperson told Bloomberg Law, “We have reviewed the allegations in the complaint and disagree with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s description of the situation. United does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace and will vigorously defend against this case.”
The flight attendant had filed three state court lawsuits against Uhlenbrock, and he was ordered to pay her damages and stop posting the private images of her online. But he kept at it, the EEOC says, and her attorney contacted United’s general counsel. The flight attendant says she was never told whether the airline took any action to stop the harassment.
The harassment only came to an end when the FBI arrested Uhlenbrock in May 2016. He later pleaded guilty to stalking and was sentenced to 41 months in prison, according to the EEOC. United nevertheless allowed Uhlenbrock to take long-term disability leave, and he remained on the airline’s payroll until he retired with full benefits, the EEOC says.
The case is EEOC v. United Airlines, Inc., W.D. Tex., No. 5:18-cv-00817, complaint filed 8/9/18.
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