A former Delta Air Lines pilot has filed a sex discrimination suit against the Atlanta-based carrier, alleging it ignored her complaints about being harassed while in the cockpit.
In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, flight engineer Kimberly McCraw said Delta subjected her to "a sexually hostile work environment and created, fostered and maintained an atmosphere of sexual discrimination and harassment."
"We don't comment on pending litigation," Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Delta is an equal-opportunity employer that is committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination and harassment. The company maintains strict policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation of any kind against employees."
McCraw, who currently works as a pilot for a private company, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to reimbursement for legal fees.
Her Atlanta attorney, Kevin Fitzpatrick Jr., said McCraw joined the airline in September 1997 while training to fly F-16s for the U.S. Air Force, and that she remained at Delta until she was fired in December 2010.
Fitzpatrick said many commercial pilots join airlines after serving as pilots in the military, which has its own issues with sexual harassment claims.
"Sometimes the [pilot] culture has a hard time catching up with the greater American culture," Fitzpatrick said. "Everywhere you work you're told that you look at a woman's eyes when you talk to her. You don't hit on them, you don't touch them, you don't harass them."
The attorney said McCraw not only was sexually harassed but was also shunned by fellow pilots who referred to her as "black widow" and who either refused to talk to her during flight operations or were openly hostile after she complained.
In her lawsuit, McCraw said she was harassed by "various male Delta pilots" beginning in 1998, but she specifically mentioned one alleged incident involving a fellow pilot on a flight to Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
McCraw said the pilot tried to engage her in sexually explicit conversation in the cockpit and used similar language later that evening when she alleges that he propositioned her during a layover at a Fort Walton Beach hotel used by the flight crew. She also alleges that the flight captain heard the language during the flight but did not intervene.
McCraw said the two pilots warned her that she was on probation and that any complaint would jeopardize her employment status. McCraw said she complained to another female pilot, who told a superior. McCraw said she met with the superior, but she declined to identify the two pilots because she feared retribution.
After the incident, however, McCraw said she was the target of "a campaign" by other pilots to harass and shun her because of her allegations.
McCraw said years later, in May 2009, she encountered the flight captain in the 1998 incident on a flight, and she alleges that he threatened a reprisal if she made any new sexual harassment claims. McCraw said she complained about the threat, and Delta removed her from her flying assignment without pay.
McCraw said she eventually lost her job after becoming involved in a verbal confrontation with a male flight attendant during a layover in London in August 2010 and being arrested. She said British police later dropped any charge.
McCraw said the repercussions she suffered after the London incident were harsher than what male flight crew members have received for similar incidents. After a 117-day suspension, McCraw said she was fired in December 2010.
McCraw filed a complaint in June 2011 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received an EEOC "notice of right to sue" in June of this year, clearing the way for her federal lawsuit.