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Veteran United Airlines Flight Attendants Were Terminated Following Two-Hour Whatsapp Chat

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A new complaint accusing United Airlines of age discrimination was filed in district court in New Jersey by a group of senior flight attendants who were fired for allegedly abusing and harassing a junior crew member over a two-hour Whatsapp discussion.

The six ex-flight attendants claimed they were sacked as part of a “purge” of elderly crew members by the Chicago-based airline in favor of younger and more junior flight attendants. One of the six had worked for PanAm and subsequently United for 55 years until she was let go in 2021.

Since they were all pursers based out of United’s Newark Liberty hub, Cheryl Bendetsen, Barbara Marovich, Janice Curran, Tammara Cook, Fred Estao, and Marysol Chaparro allege that their former employer violated both the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

In order to get the six pursers fired, the lawsuit alleges that junior flight attendants did violate United’s privacy policy by leaking screenshots from a private Whatsapp chat.

The Whatsapp communication happened on March 6, 2021, in a group that only contained 50 Newark-based pursers. Members of the group addressed a specific flight attendant who was allegedly taking pictures of coworkers breaking United’s face mask policy and posted them on Facebook groups during the two-hour discussion.

One “well-respected” purser based out of Washington Dulles had already lost his job for an alleged mask violation stemming from photos shared on social media. Some members of the Whatsapp group were concerned that this flight attendant was about to be transferred to Newark.

Screenshots of the conversation about this flight attendant from March 6 were “surreptitiously” obtained by United despite the fact that it was against the Whatsapp group’s guidelines for anybody to share chats outside the group.

United accused the six terminated pursers of bullying and harassment and later retaliation, although lawyers representing the six say these accusations are “totally false and did not occur”.

In contrast, the lawsuit alleges that junior flight attendants were allowed to make egregious comments about veteran ‘senior mamas’ in public Facebook groups without fear of reprisals.

In one group called ‘The Forgotten 5500,’ which was set up for the 5,500 most junior United flight attendants who were furloughed during the pandemic, there were allegedly claims of “bodily harm, extensive harassment and a barrage of insults” directed at senior crew members.

In contrast to the “senior six,” who claim that despite years of loyal and trouble-free service to United, the airline ignored its own “progressive discipline” system and fired them all for a relatively minor first offense, the lawsuit alleges that flight attendants in that group received no punishment.

“The actions of United against plaintiffs alleged here were taken because of their age,” the lawsuit claims. “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.”

After a federal appeals court determined that United had fired the long-serving flight attendants due to their advanced age, the airline was ordered to pay two veteran flight attendants more than $2 million in compensation last year.

A supervisor was entrusted with watching the two during a brief flight between Denver and San Francisco around five weeks after a complaint was made against them for violating United’s rules by watching a movie on an iPad while on duty.

The supervisor claims to have seen the flight attendants violate many safety and service standards throughout this flight. Both flight attendants sat on metal galley boxes against safety protocol, one was observed using an e-cigarette during the trip, and they shared an iPad to view a film.

The two did not specifically dispute breaking United’s rules in their case, but they claimed that these violations were small and commonplace and that United had broken its own internal discipline policies by disregarding progressive sanctions and heading straight for termination.

In a statement, a spokesperson for United Airlines told us: “United Airlines has zero tolerance for bullying or harassment in the workplace and we intend to vigorously defend our position.”

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