Flight attendants sue, say they’ve been called sows, prostitutes and worse on Facebook

Flight attendants sue, say they’ve been called sows, prostitutes and worse on Facebook

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Mark Price and Ely Portillo/Charlotte Observer) - Two flight attendants, one of them based in Charlotte, have filed federal lawsuits against American Airlines over alleged sexual and gender harassment on Facebook and other social media.

They claim that American Airlines failed to enforce its policies governing social media use by employees, which forbids behavior such as using slurs and other online insults, including on the employees' own accounts. The alleged harassment stems from online forums and Facebook groups where thousands of airline employees interact.

One of the flight attendants, Laura Medlin, is based at Charlotte, American Airlines' second-busiest hub and a major employee base. More than 2,600 American flight attendants work from Charlotte.

The pair of lawsuits were filed in November, in federal court in Pennsylvania. They're both still pending.

American Airlines has denied the allegations and plans to defend itself, according to court filings. A spokesperson couldn't immediately be reached for more information.

Faye Riva Cohen of Philadelphia is the attorney representing Medlin. She said the issue comes down to whether American Airlines will enforce its social media policy.

"Some of the flight attendants, the females, are feeling that they (American Airlines) are not monitoring what it is taking place on social media, which is resulting in abusive-type bullying," said Cohen.

In the lawsuit, Medlin, a flight attendant since 2000, said the online harassment started after she resigned from a union position. A group of male flight attendants based in Philadelphia started harassing her on social media, including Facebook, with insulting names such as "sow," she maintains in the suit.

The other plaintiff, a Pennsylvania-based flight attendant named Melissa Chinery, said she became the target of harassment in 2014, when she announced that she was running for a union position. Like Medlin, Chinery said she was subjected to a harassment campaign by male flight attendants, including names such as "flipper," a synomym for prostitute, as well as "c***," according to the lawsuit. The suit also claims some of her confidential information was posted publicly.

Both women said they reported the harassment to American Airlines' human resources department, which they said didn't take appropriate steps to defend them or stop the abuse. Chinery said she was labeled a "snitch" and subject to retaliation from her coworkers, including unsubstantiated complaints against her. She eventually relocated to a crew base in another city.

"The legal system has not caught up with what is happening on social media, as far as what people can say and can't say, what is appropriate," said Cohen. "Our allegation is, if you have a social media policy, such as American ...why are they not enforcing some of the things that their policy prohibits?"

Said Cohen: "When you have thousands of employees interacting on social media, without any controls being exercised by their employer, that can lead to issues and problems."