A second Delta Air Lines flight attendant has filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta-based carrier, alleging that his coworkers labelled him a member of the ‘Asian Mafia’ because of his physical appearance as an American of Hawaiian and Samoan descent.
But after complaining to his supervisor about the abuse he was receiving, George Kaaihue claims that instead of supporting him, the airline retaliated by placing him under investigation for swapping trips with colleagues.
Kaaihue says he retired because he could be terminated following a short investigation in early 2022, but he is now calling on a Georgia district court to order Delta to reinstate him in his old job as a veteran flight attendant of nearly 10 years.
The lawsuit alleges racial discrimination and discrimination on the grounds of national origin, as well as retaliation. If Kaaihue wins the suit, he is also asking for back pay, an unspecified amount in compensatory damages and an injunction preventing Delta from future alleged breaches of discrimination laws.
Kaaihue joined Delta as a reservation agent in 2009 before being hired as a flight attendant in two years later. Based out of Delta’s Seattle base, Kaaihue says he would routinely use an internal computer system to swap trips with coworkers – a practice which is fairly standard across the aviation industry.
But in July 2021, Kaaihue says he started to notice his coworkers and managers referring to him and other flight attendants of Asian appearance as members of ‘Asian Mafia’.
During this same time, a manager even warned Kaaihue about picking up or swapping trips as he had done for years because this would mark him as a member of the “Asian Mafia”.
Kaaihue complained to a base manager about the name-calling but a month later, he says he was called into the office to be asked about “trip irregularities”. A short time later, Kaaihue was accused of lying about his trip swapping and suspended from duty.
In January 2022, Kaaihue was told he was going to be terminated due to “concerns” about his trip swapping. Kaaihue appealed the decision but was quickly rejected.
The lawsuit has surprisingly close similarities with a case brought by a Detroit-based Delta flight attendant who is Asian American of Chinese descent.
The ex-flight attendant claims white coworkers would refer to Chinese or Asian flight attendants as the ‘Chinese Mafia’ and would insinuate that members of the ‘Chinese Mafia’ got all the best international trips.
The flight attendant was terminated following an investigation into her trip-swapping habits, although she denies that she ever broke Delta’s internal rules and that she often traded trips to help manage childcare responsibilities as a single mother.
Last month, Delta was caught up in an antisemitism row after one of its flight attendants allegedly referred to a visibly Orthodox Jewish man and his family as “you people” in what appeared to be an antisemitic slur.
Just before the pandemic, Delta was fined $50,000 and ordered to provide civil rights training to flight attendants and ground staff involved in a 2016 incident in which two Muslim passengers were offloaded from an international flight because of their perceived “suspicious behavior”.
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.