Southwest Airlines Discrimination Case
Recently, a Southwest Airlines discrimination issue surfaced resulting from comments expressed by a Southwest pilot during a private conversation. The two minute conversation transpired on March 25, 2011 and was inadvertently broadcast over a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control frequency in the Houston, Texas area during a flight from Austin, Texas to San Diego, California. According to the accusations, the comments were perceived as demeaning and derogatory with regard to the Southwest Airlines flight attendant employee group.
The intent of this paper is not to determine guilt or malice, but instead to present the facts presented from both sides of the argument. The legal definition of discrimination will be explored as well as opinions and views from several sources familiar with the accusations. Potential legal ramifications resulting from broadcasting non-essential transmissions over a FAA air traffic control frequency will also be presented. Furthermore, statutory, regulatory, and judicial activity with regard to this issue will be explored.
The incident stemmed from comments made by an unidentified Southwest Airlines pilot
who filled a FAA air traffic control frequency with a two minute open microphone rant of
potential discriminatory swearing and anti-gay slurs. Included were complaints regarding the
lack of attractive flight attendants available for potential dating. In addition, the pilot stated the
Southwest Airlines flight attendant workforce in general was a collection of gays, grannies, and
‘grandes’, referencing overweight, older women.
The two major players in this case are the Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants Union
and Southwest Airlines management. In response to the allegations, and in conjunction
with issuing an official apology, Southwest Airlines suspended the pilot without pay. The airline
permitted the pilot to return to work after completing diversity training. The airline believes the
incident was an isolated case and considered the conversation as ‘private'.
The Southwest Airlines flight Attendants Union have considered filing a federal workplace discrimination complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission based upon the statements made by the pilot. Despite and official apology offered by Southwest Airlines management, the union believes the airlines response and apology falls short of expectations. The union is “calling on Southwest Airlines to address this problem throughout our company, not as an isolated incident, but as a mandate that our workplace will be free from discrimination of all forms as a condition of continued employment” (Bingham). Despite the position of the union, Southwest Airlines management believes the diversity training and the public apology was an appropriate response to the incident.
Two possible actions must be considered to determine whether this incident...