A former Delta Air Lines flight attendant has lost a legal bid to sue the airline over her alleged sexual assault by a pilot during a layover. Sara Caruso’s lawsuit detailed nine different counts against the Atlanta-based airline including sex discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation but her claim was thrown out by a District Court judge last week,
Caruso claims a Delta First Officer sexually assaulted her during a routine overnight layover in Dallas, Texas, in August 2018, and that the way the airline dealt with her case resulted in constructive dismissal. She has already filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
During the layover, Caruso went out for dinner and drinks with the pilot and two other colleagues before returning to their layover home. Caruso can’t remember exactly what happened once they returned to the hotel but in testimony provided by the pilot, it is claimed she was “under the influence” of alcohol by this point.
Caruso and the pilot returned to her room where they engaged in various sexual acts before the pilot nipped back to his own room to grab a condom. When he returned to Caruso’s room, however, he allegedly found her sitting in the shower where she was physically sick.
The pilot claims that he helped Caruso to her bed before returning to his own room. He says that they never had sex.
The next day, Caruso failed to turn up for the shuttle to the airport on time and colleagues had to help her get dressed and get her on the bus. On arrival at the airport, a Delta manager administered a breathalyzer test on Caruso which she failed.
She deadheaded back to Boston where she is based and was placed on Delta’s Employee Assistance Program.
The same day, Caruso says she went to the Emergency Room where she underwent a sexual assault exam. She claims she immediately told Delta that the pilot had sexually assaulted her but the airline denies it was told anything until months later.
Delta did know, however, that Caruso had made an allegation of sexual assault and the airline opened up an internal investigation, going to the effort of interviewing her colleagues on the flight and attempting to obtain key card entry reports from the layover hotel.
The hotel initially refused to release the requested data because Caruso had not yet filed a police report and she didn’t do so until she had completed a 30-day inpatient alcohol treatment program arranged by Delta.
After completing the program, Delta approved a request by Caruso to be placed on a medical leave of absence.
Once Caruso had filed a police report, detectives attempted to obtain video surveillance footage from the hotel but by this point, it had already been overwritten. Several months later, Delta received a charge of discrimination that had been filed with state regulators.
This was, Delta claims, the first time the airline had been told the pilot wad the alleged assailant.
The pilot was subsequently interviewed but both Delta and the Dallas Police Department closed their investigations due to a lack of evidence. The pilot was allowed to continue flying and Caruso requested that because she had been diagnosed with PTSD that an accommodation be made that she never end up in the same layover hotel at the same time as the pilot.
Delta says it couldn’t honor that request because of the airline’s seniority-based bidding system. Instead, Caruso would have to ensure she didn’t bid to work on the same aircraft type as what the pilot operated.
Caruso returned to work in June 2019 but left Delta just a month later claiming constructive discharge.
The claim of sex discrimination was made on the basis that the pilot was Caruso’s ‘supervisor’ and, therefore, Delta was responsible for his actions. The District Judge ruled, however, that the pilot did not act in a supervisory role over Caruso and that Delta had not been negligent in its handling of the case.
All other claims were also thrown out in favor of Delta. The case has now gone to an appeals court and is being administered under case number: 1:20-cv-10180-NMG
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.