A veteran United Airlines flight attendant who worked for the carrier for over 35 years claims she was fired after being injured on the job when severe clear air turbulence threw her into the air damaging her ankle, left hip and lower back. Christine Finger of Harris County, Texas joined Continental Airlines back in 1984 and later worked for United when the two airlines merged in 2008.
During her time with the airline, she was one of only a lucky select few flight attendants to take part in delivery flights of new aircraft from Boeing. Ms Finger was also one of the NFL charter flight coordinators and represented United at various functions.
But Ms Finger filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas last week alleging United “turned” on her after the unlucky former flight attendant was injured twice in the course of her duties.
The lawsuit alleges United discriminated against the long serving flight attendant based on her age and disability. A spokesperson for United says the airline denies the claims and that “age, race or gender do not factor into any termination decisions at United”.
Ms Finger was first injured in August 2014 when severe clear air turbulence hit a flight she was working. At the time, United had a policy that allowed flight attendants to take up to three years off on sick leave before their contracts could be terminated.
She returned to work nearly two years later as a flight attendant recruiter but was soon back on sick leave because the pain from her injuries prevented her from working. The short stint back at work did, however, reset the three-year sick clock.
With just two days to go before the three-year deadline passed, Ms Finger again returned to work and started a 17-day flight attendant training course in early June 2019. But on the very last day of the course, Ms Finger again injured her ankle whilst on duty.
She claims to have begged the trainers not to report the injury for fear of “retaliation” from the airline but she eventually reported the injury herself. Ms Finger claims she attempted to sort out a form of light-duty while her injuries healed but by the end of June she was terminated for failing to complete the return to work process.
The lawsuit alleges the airline targeted Ms Finger “because of her disability and age”. The claim continues: “Upon information and belief, United prefers to target older workers for termination”.
Ms Finger is asking to be reinstated to her former position, with back pay and damages for the alleged discrimination she has suffered.
In a statement, United Airlines told us: “We are aware of Ms Finger’s allegations and the fact is she was administratively separated per the terms of her contract when she did not return from her leave of absence within the timeline required.”
“Age, race or gender do not factor into any termination decisions at United. We believe we are in full compliance with the applicable laws and policies regarding this separation and will defend ourselves against these claims,” the statement continued.
Earlier this year, two California-based United flight attendants accused the airline of age discrimination because they had been looked over working on NFL charter flights. United has strongly contested the claims.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.