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By Lewis Lazare  – Reporter, Chicago Business Journal
Mar 8, 2018, 12:34pm

United Airlines may be trying to be a more caring airline today, but that’s definitely not the message two former United flight attendants, Jeanne Stroupand Ruben Lee, said they got when they were terminated five years ago for what the two subsequently claimed was age discrimination.

Stroup is currently 59 and Lee is now 66. Together the two airline veterans had worked for United for a combined 70-plus years before they were terminated.

Stroup and Lee, who were based in Denver, filed an age discrimination lawsuit in 2015 in federal district court in Denver, with United named as the sole defendant. The lawsuit states that United “unlawfully and willfully terminated flight attendants Ruben Lee and Jeanne Stroup because of their ages.”

The suit finally went to trial last week. On Monday the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, and awarded a total $800,000 to Stroup and Lee. 

David Lane, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said today that in addition to the monies awarded to the two plaintiffs, United will be required to pay court and attorney fees for both sides, bringing United’s total expenditure on the lawsuit to about $1.5 million, per Lane’s estimate.

But it’s some of the details in the lawsuit and subsequent depositions that show — in fascinating detail — how determined United was to get rid of two senior flight attendants who presumably were earning more than many more junior employees within the flight attendant ranks at the airline.

Per the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by the Chicago Business Journal (read it here), United’s reasons for terminating Stroup and Lee centered largely on observations made during an unannounced excellence review conducted during United Flight 721 from San Francisco to Denver on Sept. 20, 2013.

During that flight, a United inflight supervisor, Deepesh Bagwe, said he observed that both Stroup and Lee failed to follow United policy and wear aprons during the inflight service. The two also were seen watching an iPad video for approximately 15 minutes during the flight.

Lane also said that Bagwe alleged that Lee — against United policy — comped one passenger a mini vodka bottle and distributed cups from a stack in his hand instead of on a tray.

The lawsuit claimed that “United used plaintiffs’ purported rule violations as a pretextual basis to fire them when, in reality, United terminated them because of their ages.”

Once all the evidence was presented in court, the jury in Denver ultimately found in favor of the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, a United spokeswoman declined to comment further today except to say in a statement that “we respectfully disagree with the jury’s decision and are reviewing our options for appeal.”

United Airlines is a unit of United Continental Holdings (NYSE: UAL).

By Lewis Lazare  – Reporter, Chicago Business Journal
Mar 14, 2018, 
United Airlines is confronting another public relations nightmare.

A French bulldog died yesterday on a United flight from Houston to New York City after the dog was placed in its carry-on satchel in an overhead bin for the three-and-a-half-hour duration of the flight at the request of a flight attendant.

United Airlines, which is trying to be a more caring airline in the wake of the infamous man-dragged-from-plane incident last year, immediately said it was a mistake to put the dog in the overhead bin and offered condolences to the dog’s owners.

United’s official statement went thusly: “This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family, and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”

But while United was busy formally saying the Chicago-based carrier was deeply contrite, United employees behind the scenes were raising some very pertinent points about the incident in a rapid-fire exchange of emails among United flight attendants, customers service agents, pilots and other insiders.

Sources within the United employee ranks shared some of the hundreds of emails that began flowing among employees in the immediate aftermath of the dead dog on board incident. One succinct email from a concerned United customer service agent seemed to sum up the feelings of many who spoke out: “Very fishy.”

“Something is really off here,” noted another United employee.

Indeed, other comments seemed to suggest it might be ill-advised for United management to rush to judgement about the flight attendant who reportedly insisted the dog be placed in an overhead bin, while others, knowing how vocal pet lovers can be, recognized the situation for what it was — another unfortunate hit against United.

That said, United employees and flight attendants, who deal with situations like this every day they are in the air, were increasingly skeptical of what was known — and not much was known for certain — in the early hours after the dead-dog crisis began to escalate. 

Noted one flight attendant in an email to fellow workers: “I can’t believe a flight attendant knew a pet was in the bag.” Added another: “The whole situation just doesn’t seem right.”

Then there’s the matter of the dog reportedly yelping after it was placed in the overhead bin. That development certainly begs the question of why no one apparently moved to open the bin and inspect the dog? That obvious question remains out there — unanswered at this point.

While it may seem farfetched to some, United workers also were beginning to wonder if the aggrieved dog’s owner might have been willing to let the dog expire in the overhead luggage bin so that she could get angry and possibly extract a massive financial settlement from United. David Dao was issued an undisclosed settlement soon after he was dragged screaming and yelling from a United Express flight last April.

Various reports had the dog’s owner weeping on the plane, falling to her knees, and in general appearing to behave in a manner intended to emphasize the horror of what happened to her dog. Whether or not the display was genuine, it was a show that social media denizens fell for hook, line and sinker.

A United spokesman today refused to say whether the airline would pay the dead dog’s owner a payout before a full investigation is concluded. “We may have more to say later,” he added.

The spokesman also said the airline had “offered” to do a necropsy (a dog autopsy) on the animal to determine if asphyxiation was the cause of the dog’s death or possibly some other as-yet-unknown medical condition.

Late today, United issued an updated statement on the dead dog issue: "We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin."

United further said that to prevent a similar incident from happening again, the airline will begin issuing bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will supposedly further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.

Whether this update will put to rest all the questions being raised by United employees remains to be seen.

United Airlines is a unit of United Continental Holdings (NYSE: UAL).