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2 flight attendants sue United Airlines for discrimination on Dodgers charter flights

A United Airlines jetliner lifts off from a runway at Denver International Airport on June 10, 2020, in Denver. Two United Airlines flight attendants have filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging they were excluded from working charter flights for the Los Angeles Dodgers because of their race, age, religion and appearance.
David Zalubowski
/
AP
A United Airlines jetliner lifts off from a runway at Denver International Airport on June 10, 2020, in Denver. Two United Airlines flight attendants have filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging they were excluded from working charter flights for the Los Angeles Dodgers because of their race, age, religion and appearance.

Two longtime United Airlines flight attendants have filed a lawsuit against the company, saying they were excluded from working charter flights for the Los Angeles Dodgers because of their race, age, religion and appearance.

In a 22-page lawsuit filed on Oct. 25 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the two flight attendants — Dawn Todd, 50, and Darby Quezada, 44 — alleged that United Airlines removed them from the crews of the Dodgers charter flights, which are highly coveted and competitive positions for United flight attendants. The airline then allegedly replaced them with flight attendants who "fit a specific visual image," according to the lawsuit obtained by NPR.

The two flight attendants are seeking a jury trial and an unspecified amount in damages.

Todd is Black and Quezada is of Mexican, Black and Jewish descent. Both women have been employed with United Airlines for more than 15 years. The pair say the airline chose attendants who were "young, white, female and predominately blond/blue-eyed," the lawsuit said.

In addition, the suit argued that the airline's white employees engaged in blatant discriminatory practices towards their minority counterparts on the charter flights.

Both Todd and Quezada had spent more than a decade trying to join the airline's program that staffs the Dodgers' flights, the lawsuit said.

Flight attendants who are chosen for the highly desired positions can earn up to double or sometimes even triple their pay for typical assignments, given the longer flight times.

"Plaintiffs had the necessary experience and qualifications... but their requests were dismissed and rejected because Plaintiffs were not white," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also stated that United employees and management referred to Quezada and Todd as "maids" — with one instance of Quezada allegedly being called a maid because the group needed a "Mexican to clean the bathrooms." She also claimed that she was told to stop speaking Spanish with a Dodgers player (who was not identified) because "we are in America."

In addition to allegedly being referred to as a "flight maid," Todd claimed United employees and management threatened to spill a tray of hot coffee and tea on her, alongside ignoring and demeaning her during meetings and flights, the lawsuit said.

Todd, who has spent more than 17 years with United Airlines, said since her demotion she has experienced "financial harm," as she was instructed to clear her schedule to make herself available to the random selection of charter flights — thus missing out on further compensation she would earn on regular United flights.

"This demotion is forcing Todd and other minority flight attendants to either lose compensation awaiting 'random' selection or to quit the program entirely," the lawsuit said.

Sam Yebri, the attorney representing both Todd and Quezada, told NPR that major corporations in the U.S., such as United, need to understand the severity of their actions when it comes to staffing decisions — regardless of an employee's race, age and physical appearance.

"United's blatantly discriminatory staffing decisions allowed the cancer of racism and antisemitism to metastasize on the flights themselves," Yebri said.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are not named as defendants in the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the Dodgers told NPR that the team does not comment on any pending litigation.

In a statement to NPR, United denied the legitimacy of the claims in the lawsuit, saying that the company "fosters an environment of inclusion" and does not "tolerate discrimination of any kind."

"We believe this lawsuit is without merit and intend to defend ourselves vigorously," the airline said in its statement.

United Airlines is no stranger to discrimination accusations. The company was targeted in a 2020 lawsuit, which claimed the airline discriminated against Black and Jewish flight attendants for its athletic teams' charter flights by staffing them with attendants who "fit a specific visual image."

The airline declined to comment to USA Today on the lawsuit but told the newspaper in a statement they are proud of its track record on "diversity, equity and inclusion."

"...the flight attendants included in our sports team charter program are largely representative of our overall flight attendant population in regards to age and race," United spokesperson Jonathan Guerin told USA Today in 2020.

"Importantly, flight attendant eligibility to work a charter flight is based solely on performance and attendance and has nothing to do with age, race or gender," he added.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.