United Airlines Fired Two Flight Attendants For Watching an iPad. A Jury Wondered Why
Sometimes, even juries aren’t impressed with airlines.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
It's a new week, United Airlines keeps on drifting into my eyes.
The airline was, you see, involved in a court case that some might feel should have been avoided.
If only for the chance that more bad publicity might pour itself over the airline.
Jeanne Stroup and Ruben Lee worked for United Airlines for a combined 75 years.
Then they were on a flight from Denver to San Francisco in September 2013.
Their lawsuit -- for there was, indeed, a lawsuit -- says that they were suddenly fired for watching an iPad for 15 minutes during the flight.
Oh, and for not wearing an apron when they were serving passengers.
Oddly, some might think that a few United Flight Attendants wear only a frown of pain these days.
In this case, that's how it must have been for Stroup and Lee after they were fired.
After all, they had extremely good employment records.
Last week, however, a jury decided that their firing was unfair. So unfair that Stroup was awarded $200,000 in damages and Lee $190,000.
The jury seemed to get a little cross with the way they were treated. It decided United's behavior was willful, so it doubled the back pay damages and suddenly the amount became $820,000.
It must have all seemed a little odd to these two veterans to suddenly be subjected to an "excellence review" during this particular flight.
No one had told them that their excellence would be tested at that time.
Somehow, though, this thing went to court.
As Westword reports it, a United supervisor took the stand and offered pulsating testimony.
Their attorney David Lane told the tale of this testimony like this: "And I said, 'In the hierarchy of rule violations, these are pretty ticky-tacky.' He said, 'I don't agree.' I said, 'For example, watching an iPad for a few minutes is certainly less serious than lighting a campfire in the bathroom of a flight when it's at 35,000 feet.' And he said, 'No, I disagree with that.' I said, 'Seriously? You think lighting a campfire in the bathroom is as serious as watching an iPad for a few minutes?' And he said, 'Yes.'"
I feel your eyes are rolling and your eyebrows twitching independently of each other.
Please can you imagine how the jury digested that view.
Lane sounded almost magnanimous on describing his clients' victory -- which will see United pay his costs, too.
"We're not alleging United has a pattern and practice of age discrimination," he told Westword. "But in this particular case, they tried to make an example out of a couple of older flight attendants, and it backfired on them."
I asked United for its thoughts.
"We respectfully disagree with the jury's decision and are reviewing our options for appeal," an airline spokeswoman told me.
Oh, why do these things happen?