United Found Willful in Age Discrimination

Jury awards plaintiffs damages in a lawsuit against the airline

Two former United Airlines employees saw success in their age discrimination lawsuit against the company last week. Plaintiffs Jeanne Stroup and Ruben Lee worked for defendant United Airlines as flight attendants — Stroup was with United for 35 years, Lee for 40 — before they were forced to retire in 2013.

According to the suit, Stroup and Lee were working on a flight from Denver to San Francisco in September 2013 when Deepesh Bagwe, the San Francisco inflight supervisor, performed an unannounced “excellence review” on that flight. Bagwe stated that he observed Stroup and Lee watch a video on an iPad for approximately 15 minutes during the flight and provide food and drink service to passengers without wearing an apron. These infractions were the basis for disciplinary letters Stroup and Lee received in October 2013.

The “trivial rule violations during one flight were not offenses that warranted the terminations of such devoted employees,” the complaint argued, and a jury agreed. “We respectfully disagree with the jury’s decision and are reviewing our options for appeal,” a statement from United reads.

The jury awarded Stroup just over $200,000 in damages and awarded Lee about $190,000, but because the jury found that the discrimination was willful, the back pay damages were automatically doubled to roughly $820,000 combined for both former flight attendants. The jury also required United to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees. Senior U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel will decide the front pay amount, which extends from the date of the verdict to a reasonable time into the future.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 12, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.