A former Delta Air Lines flight attendant is suing the Atlanta-based carrier after she was sacked for posting a cartoon of then President Donald Trump wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood on her Facebook profile.
Leondra Taylor, an African American woman, has accused Delta of racial discrimination and retaliation in the lawsuit which was filed in federal court in Atlanta on Monday.
Taylor was a veteran flight attendant who worked for Delta for 13 years and before then at Northwest Airlines until she was dismissed on April 12, 2021, on the grounds that she had posted a racially motivated political post on social media.
Delta has one of the strictest employee social media policies amongst U.S.-based airlines, although the rules haven’t prevented a number of high-profile controversies.
In June 2020, a ‘celebrity’ Delta flight attendant was sacked for posting a series of racially motivated posts that referenced Black Lives Matter on Twitter. Although complaints had been made against Kevin Lee Jennings in the past, the latest lawsuit claims Delta only took action after the media got involved.
In Taylor’s case, Delta started to trawl through her social media history after she helped in a case against yet another flight attendant who was sacked for posting a controversial image on social media.
In that incident, the flight attendant shared a picture of former First Lady Michelle Obama next to a picture of a monkey wearing similar clothing. When approached by managers, Taylor confirmed she had seen the picture and was offended by the racial implications of the post.
Soon after the flight attendant was fired, a complaint was made against Taylor alleging that she had celebrated the dismissal with a post on Facebook. Taylor rejected the accusation and no evidence was ever retrieved to suggest she ever even wrote the alleged Facebook post.
Nonetheless, the lawsuit claims Delta continued to investigate Taylor’s Facebook, demanding she prove the lack of evidence to back up her side of the story. During this time, managers trawled through her social media profiles and discovered she had posted a cartoon of former President Trump wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood.
The cartoon portrayed Trump going head to head with Joe Biden in a presidential debate during the pandemic. The moderator is saying to Trump: “Thank you Mr President for wearing your mask”.
Taylor admitted to posting the cartoon and accepted the post was political but denied allegations that the cartoon was disrespectful, hateful or discriminatory.
“In fact, her post was quite the opposite. It simultaneously made a statement about Trump’s denial of the need for COVID protective measures, and that racial discrimination against African Americans was a systemic issue starting at the top, with the then president,” the lawsuit explains.
Delta suspended Taylor in February 2021 and she was dismissed in April 2021 for posting a ‘racially motivated’ message on social media.
Taylor sought assistance from an internal department known as the in-flight conflict resolution panel which could review the circumstances of her dismissal and reverse the penalty if it sought fit to do so.
Delta’s Human Resources department has, however, allegedly refused to hand over details of the case to the CRP.
Taylor now accuses Delta of racial discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act alleging that the airline’s non-African American employees were not subject to such harsh punishments for similar breaches of the social media policy.
In 2020, Delta chief executive Ed Bastian was forced to address employees after the Jennings case went viral. Bastian told staffers that the airline would not “tolerate racist, bigoted or hateful acts or statements in our workspaces or directed at our people”.
A Delta spokesperson told us that they didn’t want to get into the details of Taylor’s lawsuit but in a statement, the airline said: “When Delta employees intermix Delta’s brand with conduct or content that does not reflect our values of professionalism, inclusion and respect, that conduct can result in discipline or termination.”
“While personnel issues are considered private between Delta and its employees, the circumstances described by our former employee are not an accurate or complete explanation of the company’s termination decision.”
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.