Airlines Present Unique Challenges for Sexual Harassment Claimants

Norwegian flight attendantBusinesses have a duty to protect their customers from dangerous conditions, and they may be liable for damages under a theory of negligence or premises liability. Employers have a duty to protect their employees from certain dangers. These duties sometimes overlap. They could complement one another, as when a business must protect both its customers and its employees from a shared risk. At other times, an employer may have a duty to protect its employees from sexual harassment and other acts by certain customers. This type of situation may arise in any business where employees interact with the general public, but airlines present a particular risk, considering the confined space of an airplane and the duration of many flights. Recent reports on the issue of both sexual harassment and sexual assault on airplanes demonstrate the complicated legal issues that can be involved.

For airline employees, such as flight attendants, an airplane is a workplace, subject to the same laws and regulations as an office, restaurant, store, or other place of business. The fact that an airplane is mobile, meaning that the exact location where an alleged unlawful act occurred might be difficult to determine, does not prevent aggrieved employees from asserting their legal rights. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment and other discriminatory acts in the workplace, applies throughout the nation. It may also apply on airplanes owned and operated by American companies, even if they are traveling internationally. Under Title VII, an employer may be liable for sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor or manager. It can also be liable for sexual harassment by a coworker or customer, if it knows or should know about the harassment and fails to take remedial action.

Media reports illustrate incidents of sexual harassment and assault on airplanes on a fairly regular basis. These stories are often presented as further examples of uncomfortable and difficult conditions on airplanes, but they have their own distinct importance, in a legal sense, for airline employees. In one example from late 2016, an airline ejected a passenger from a flight, before takeoff, for allegedly catcalling a flight attendant during the safety demonstration. For every story like this one, it is unfortunately likely that many more go unreported.

Sexual harassment lawsuits by airline employees often make allegations that could occur in almost any workplace, such as a failure to address allegedly rampant sexual comments both in person and in online employee forums. The distinct environment of a commercial airplane, however, adds an even-more unpleasant twist to such scenarios, as employees might literally be trapped with their harassers or with harassing materials. In one lawsuit, a female airline pilot alleged that airline employees were placing pornographic materials in the cockpit, and that the airline failed to take reasonable steps to prevent such conduct. Other claims have alleged sexual harassment of female employees working in high-stress positions like traffic control.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City workers in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how our knowledgeable and skilled team can help you, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Class Action Against Jewelry Retailer Includes 69,000 Complainants, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 15, 2017

Server Alleges Sexual Harassment in New York Federal Lawsuit Against Restaurant, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 31, 2017

New York City Bus Drivers Allege Sexual Harassment by Male Supervisor, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 3, 2017

Photo credit: Norwegian [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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