Airline Failed to Act After Pilot Posted Racy Photos of United Flight Attendant, U.S. Says - Freeverything.com

Airline Failed to Act After Pilot Posted Racy Photos of United Flight Attendant, U.S. Says


For years, a United Airlines pilot posted nude and sexually suggestive photos of a female flight attendant online, making references to her job and even posting photos of her partially clothed in her uniform, court records show.

“Look for her when you fly!” one post said.

But according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, United failed to intervene, determining that the pilot’s actions did not constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. The federal agency accuses the airline of discriminating against the woman and failing to protect her from a hostile work environment.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Texas, asks for compensation for the woman, who is identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, and asks for United to eliminate any sexual discrimination and provide equal opportunities for women.

In an email on Friday, a United spokeswoman said the company disagreed with the lawsuit’s description of the situation, but she declined to specify what it disputed. “United does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace and will vigorously defend against this case,” she said.

The suit comes as United fights to recover from a series of episodes that have forced public apologies, including a widely shared video of a passenger being dragged off a plane and an uproar over the death of a dog that was stored in an overhead compartment against airline policy.

The flight attendant began a consensual relationship with the pilot, Mark Uhlenbrock, in 2002. During their relationship, she allowed him to take images of her in “provocative poses,” according to the lawsuit.

The photos, the suit said, were “never intended to be anything other than intimate and private between them as a couple.” But in 2006, the couple broke up after the woman learned that Mr. Uhlenbrock had posted racy photos of her online.

Over the next decade, Mr. Uhlenbrock regularly posted sexually explicit images of her, including in her flight attendant uniform, according to the lawsuit. At times, he also identified her name, occupation and home airport. She was, he said, a “new reason to ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’” — a reference to United’s slogan, the suit contends.

The images — which were seen by at least two of her United co-workers — interfered with her ability to do a job that values “personal rapport and congeniality,” according to the E.E.O.C.

The woman sued Mr. Uhlenbrock three times, and he agreed to pay more than $100,000 in damages, court records show.

In 2011, she also complained to United officials and filed a formal human resources complaint. She provided evidence of the online posts, including a photo of her in her flight attendant uniform. But United officials concluded that Mr. Uhlenbrock’s actions did not constitute sexual harassment in the workplace, according to the lawsuit.

Two years later, the woman filed another complaint and provided dates and IP addresses that showed that Mr. Uhlenbrock had posted images when he was on layovers between flights — and accountable to his employer. Still, “no adequate disciplinary, preventative or corrective action was taken,” the suit said.

As Mr. Uhlenbrock continued to post racy photos of the woman, the F.B.I. began an investigation, according to a criminal complaint filed in 2016. That year, Mr. Uhlenbrock pleaded guilty to stalking and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Records show he is serving his sentence in St. Louis; he could not be reached for comment on Friday.

His behavior took a toll on the woman, according to the lawsuit: She at one point took a leave of absence from United “due to the emotional harm suffered.”

Mr. Uhlenbrock, meanwhile, was allowed to retire with full benefits, the lawsuit said.



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