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United Airlines to Pay $2 Million to Flight Attendants in Bizarre Age Discrimination Lawsuit

United Airlines to Pay $2 Million to Flight Attendants in Bizarre Age Discrimination Lawsuit

United Airlines will pay two veteran flight attendants more than $2 million in compensation after a federal appeals court agreed with a previous jury finding that the airline had fired the long-serving flight attendants based on their age.

In a lengthy 52-page ruling, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to reasonably conclude that United had discriminated against the flight attendants because of their age.

The dispute can be traced back to 2013 when a flight attendant made an internal complaint about two of her coworkers – Denver-based flight attendants, Jeannie Stroup and Ruben Lee.

Stroup and Lee were accused of breaking United’s rules by watching a movie on an iPad while on duty during a flight, so a supervisor was tasked with observing them during a short flight between Denver and San Francisco around five weeks later.

During this flight, the supervisor claims to have observed the flight attendants break a slew of safety and service standards. Lee was seen to smoke an e-cigarette during the flight, both flight attendants sat on metal galley boxes in violation of safety rules, and they watched a video on an iPad together.

Lee was also caught giving out a mini bottle of vodka to an Economy passenger for free, not standing in the correct position of the safety demonstration and breaking United’s internal rules for carrying out a mid-flight water service.

After several months of investigations, the two flight attendants decided to retire before they were fired. Stroup had worked as a flight attendant with United for 29 years, while Lee had been with United for more than 40 years. They were aged 55 and 61 years old respectively at the time they left United.

Shortly after leaving the airline, the two ex-crew members filed a suit against United claiming age discrimination. During a five day trial, the flight attendants convinced the jury that United’s witnesses lacked credibility, that United’s explanations were inconsistent and that there had been procedural irregularities.

Stroup and Lee didn’t try to hide the fact that they had broken the rules but claimed they were “commonplace” and “minor” and that similar transgressions from other flight attendants hadn’t warranted dismissal.

In fact, United’s internal policies suggested flight attendants be subject to gradually escalating levels of discipline but in this case, the airline was attempting to fire the crew members.

“We conclude that there was substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict,” the appeal judges wrote in their verdict.

“More specifically, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably determine that United’s stated reasons for disciplining Plaintiffs were a pretext for unlawful age discrimination”.

Stroup and Lee had sought $1 million in compensation but owing to the appeal, United must now pay double the original sum.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for United said the airline “is proud of its diverse workforce that includes employees in every age range.”

“We will continue to hire and retain people who enjoy long careers at the airline,” the statement concluded.

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