A federal judge has thrown out a case in which an American Airlines flight attendant claimed she was sexually harassed by her colleagues through a series of social media posts.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted American’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff Melissa Chinery’s claims.
According to Robreno’s opinion, Chinery ran for the presidency of the flight attendants’ association on the platform of rejecting a contract with American. She lost.
Fellow flight attendants Paul Sears, Jim Brown, Victor Dunson and Dan Datzer posted on a Facebook group called “Wingnuts” and Chinery alleged the posts amounted to sexual harassment.
‘“I just voted ‘NO’ to these clowns,’” Datzer wrote on the page, according to Robreno’s opinion. “’it’s your cunstitutional [sic] right to vote NO.’”
Dunson posted on Wingnuts, according to Robreno: “’this is war. Brian and [incumbent president] Kim [Kaswinkel] are my friends. If you f**k with my friends you f** with me and I don’t like being f**ked with.’”
Chinery took this as a form of sexual harassment, alleging that Dunson would not have said the same to a male candidate.
Chinery filed a claim with American’s human resources department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but no action was taken. Later, Chinery was reported to have surreptitiously filmed American’s vendor and was called into a two-hour meeting by American to discuss the matter.
In order to prevail on disparate treatment, Robreno said Chinery would have to prove she belongs to a protected class; she was qualified for her position; she was subject to an adverse employment action; and members of the opposite sex were treated better or that there was an inference of discrimination. For the retaliation claim, Chinery had to show she was engaged in a protected activity and suffered an adverse employment action for it.
“Chinery argues that after she was anonymously accused of violating American policy, she was required to participate in an approximately two-hour meeting after which she was cleared of wrongdoing and not disciplined in any way,” Robreno said. “This event is not serious enough to alter the terms of Chinery’s employment, thus, it is not a qualifying adverse action.”
Robreno said Chinery’s hostile work environment claim also failed.
“While there are a number of serious questions that are raised by Chinery’s claims—including whether the alleged harassment over Facebook was due to her sex rather than her opinions regarding the union’s collective bargaining agreement with American, and whether the harassment actually occurred in the work environment—it is clear that the alleged instances of harassment were not so objectively severe or pervasive to give rise to a cause of action,” Robreno said.
Daniel Farrington represents American and did not respond to a request for comment.
David Koller represents Chinery and said, “We just received the decision and have not had a chance to go over it yet with our clients so cannot comment much on it. We thought the situation presented an interesting and timely legal issue regarding social media policies in the workplace. But more important than that, we are obviously disappointed for our clients.”