Several days ago, Delta Air Lines was celebrating the career of one of its longest-serving but recently retired flight attendants who had previously worked for Pan Am. But now, the Atlanta-based airline is being accused of trying to get rid of its most senior and longest-serving flight attendants, welcoming “any criticism of its oldest employees in order to justify the eventual termination of their employment”.
At least, that’s what a wrongful termination lawsuit recently filed in the Superior Court of California alleges against the carrier. Ida Gomez Llanos, who’s represented by Shegerian & Associates, had worked for Delta for 57-years when she was sacked in June after being accused of taking a carton of milk off a Delta aircraft.
The 79-year old, who had many years of unblemished service, claims she was subjected to “harassment, discrimination and retaliation based on age and sex” – all of which is said to have fallen on deaf ears.
Gomez had been at Delta for so long that she was the most senior flight attendant at its Los Angeles base and the fifth most senior in the entire company.
But the perks and privileges that seniority gave her – like being able to choose the flights she wanted to work and picking up extra trips – made some of her colleagues resentful. It’s alleged some even concocted accusations in an attempt to get Ms Gomex in trouble with her supervisors.
“…unbeknownst to Ms Gomez, Delta intended to get rid of its most senior flight attendants,” the lawsuit alleges. “At the time, Delta welcomed any criticism of its oldest employees in order to justify the eventual termination of their employment.”
Some of the accusations made against Ms Gomez in little more than a 12-month period include:
- That she paid another flight attendant $100 to reach stowages in the galley that was she was unable to reach
- That she failed to work her assigned position
- It was claimed she was no longer able to arm or disarm the aircraft doors
- Flight attendants spread rumors that she had been stealing chocolate from the plane and eating food before serving it to passengers
- Another flight attendant accused her of putting Bailey’s Irish Cream liquor in her coffee during a flight
- Supervisors issued a disciplinary action for “gossiping” when she asked for help to stop the alleged harassment and bullying
- One flight attendant is alleged to have “screamed” at her for no reason during a long-haul flight to Shanghai
On one occasion, Ms Gomez says she overheard a colleague say he was “trying to get her (Ms Gomez) fired any way I can!”. One of her accusers was himself apparently dismissed from the company for sexually assaulting another colleague.
Gomez says she made a number of complaints to her supervisors in an attempt to address the harassment but that the airline failed to take any action. Then on March 13, things came to a head when Gomez was operating a flight to Sydney, Australia.
Gomez accidentally failed to declare a carton of milk in her baggage and was then stopped and fined by Customs officers at Sydney airport. That would normally be the end of the matter but Gomez found herself accused of stealing the milk from Delta – although she maintains that she had bought the milk prior to the flight.
To make matters worse, when pulled in for a meeting with her supervisor, Gomez initially said she had taken the milk off the plane. It was technically true but what she meant to say was that she had taken her own milk off the plane.
Then another complaint came in – a colleague not only accused her of taking milk from the plane but also three bags of chocolate, nine bowls of cereal, all of the espresso, and a whole pizza. Her attorney says there was no evidence to substantiate the claim and, in fact, a fellow flight attendant stood up for Gomez and declared that nothing was missing from the plane when they got off.
On June 6, however, Delta fired the veteran flight attendant for this alleged indiscretion.
“Over her 56 years of employment as a flight attendant, she has witnessed almost every flight attendant she has worked with take all sorts of company items off the aircraft, including full bottles of alcohol,” the lawsuit says.
“In fact, Delta and its management were completely aware of this fact and never took any disciplinary action against flight attendants, except those they wished to eliminate. In fact, Ms. Gomez had an unblemished record until management accepted these false accusations as truth in 2018 and could not believe that her employment might be terminated over a carton of milk.”
Gomez has requested a jury trial and is seeking more than $25,000 in damages from the airline. Delta has been contacted for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.