Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, December 1, 2020


Page 3


Ninth Circuit:

Flight Attendant Justifiably Fired for Onboard Disruption


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The  Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of United Airlines in an action brought by a flight attendant who contends she was fired in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act based on a disability, with a three-judge panel agreeing with the District Court that it was her misconduct while a passenger on a flight that caused the termination of her employment.

Plaintiff Nanci Williams did have disabilities which restricted the tasks she could perform—such as not being able to stand for long periods or assist passengers or crew members in certain ways. The disabilities resulted from 2003 injuries incurred when an airplane descended rapidly, with her being slammed against both the floor and ceiling.

But the record shows that airline did not discriminate against her based on the disabilities, a memorandum opinion, filed Friday, notes, affirming a judgment by Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero of the Northern District of California.

No Jury Issue

A three-judge panel said:

“There was evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Williams was discharged because she and her pass riders disrupted and delayed a United flight….There was no evidence, however, from which a reasonable  jury could find that Williams was discharged because of disability.”

The disruption occurred in December 2015. As an employee of United, she had the opportunity to take flights as a passenger for free or for reduced rates when space was available, and in reliance on that policy, boarded a flight in San Francisco that was headed for Mexico, joined by her husband and parents.

While the aircraft was still on the ground, she and her husband got into an argument over a cup of coffee. She claimed he tried to choke her—in any event, she scratched his face, drawing blood.

Williams was taken off the flight and arrested for felony domestic violence.

Proper Conclusion

Friday’s opinion says Spero “properly concluded that Williams failed to establish a prima facie case,” but adds:

“Even assuming that Williams established a prima facie case, the district court properly concluded that United articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the discharge—the flight disruption and delay caused by Williams and her guests. Williams’s argument that the discharge was contrary to California law, and thus that United failed to offer a legitimate reason for the discharge, is not well taken.”

Williams sought to invoke California Labor Code §230(e) which provides:

“An employer shall not discharge or in any manner discriminate or retaliate against an employee because of the employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, if the victim provides notice to the employer of the status or the employer has actual knowledge of the status.”

The opinion says there “is no evidence in the record to suggest that Williams was discharged” in violation of that section.

The case is Williams v. United Airlines, Inc., 19-16440.


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