Flight attendant sues Southwest Airlines over alleged livestreaming of aircraft lavatory

Oct 26, 2019

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Southwest Airlines flight attendant Rene Steinaker has filed a lawsuit against the carrier, accusing two pilots of hiding a camera in an aircraft lavatory, livestreaming the activity and watching it in the cockpit on Feb. 27, 2017, according to a filing in the federal court for the District of Arizona. The alleged incident happened on a Southwest Airlines flight from Pittsburgh to Phoenix on Feb. 27, 2017.

In the lawsuit filing, first reported by the Arizona Republic, Steinaker said the pilot, Capt. Terry Graham, asked her to sit in the cockpit while he used the forward lavatory, which is in line with Southwest Airlines’ policy that requires two crew members be in the cockpit at all times.

Upon entering the cockpit, Steinaker saw an iPad mounted to the left of the captain’s seat, where she saw a livestream of Graham in the bathroom, according to a document from Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, the law firm representing her.

(Photo by Angel DiBilio / Shutterstock)
(Photo by Angel DiBilio / Shutterstock)

The lawsuit noted that co-pilot Ryan Russell “looked panicked,” but told her the cameras were “a new top-secret security measure” installed on the Southwest fleet. He also “ordered” her not say a word to anyone about the cameras or the recording she had seen, because she was not supposed to know about this new security measure, according to the suit.

Steinaker says she did not believe him and snapped a picture of the livestreaming iPad with her phone. When Graham returned to the cockpit, Russell left to use the same lavatory. She confronted Graham about the cameras and he allegedly refused to answer any of her questions and blocked her view of the iPad.

Steinaker shared her observations with the other flight attendants and showed them the picture she had taken in the cockpit. Upon landing, they wrote up the incident to Southwest, included Steinaker’s photos of the iPad and hand-delivered it to Southwest Airlines management.

Steinaker and the other crew members also informed management that Graham and Russell had a short layover in Phoenix and were scheduled to fly to Nashville, and if permitted to leave, the pilots would further remove, hide, or destroy evidence of their wrongdoing. The crew members asked management to obtain the cockpit recordings from the flight to corroborate the details they described in their incident report, as well as the feed from Graham’s iPad and the camera footage from the airplane gate for the flight.

According to the lawsuit, however, the pilots were allowed to fly to Nashville on time with a new staff of flight attendants. Southwest Airlines told Steinaker and the other flight attendants that it would investigate the incident, but also ordered them to not discuss the incident with anyone.

Steinaker’s supervisor also ordered her not to talk to anybody about what happened, the lawsuit alleges, warning Steinaker, “If this got out, if this went public, no one, I mean no one, would ever fly our airline again.”

After the incident, Steinaker was unable to work for several days, sought counseling, and continues to have physical, emotional, and mental injuries as a result of the incident. Since then, she accuses the airline of engaging in a pattern of retaliation and monitoring efforts to silence and intimidate the four flight attendants who reported the incident. Her husband, flight attendant David Steinaker, who was not on the flight, claims to also have been subjected to harassment since his wife reported the incident to management.

The complaint further alleges that Southwest Airlines’ managers made it known to Steinaker and the other crew members of Flight 1088 that their jobs and livelihood would be in jeopardy if they chose to bring these bizarre behaviors by Southwest pilots to light.

The lawsuit was originally filed in Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona on Oct. 25, 2018, but was moved to U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on Aug. 23, 2019. Steinaker is asking for punitive damages for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, negligence, invasion of privacy, sexual harassment and retaliation.

A representative for Southwest Airlines told the Arizona Republic that, “The safety and security of our employees and customers is Southwest’s uncompromising priority. As such, Southwest does not place cameras in the lavatories of our aircraft. At this time, we have no other comment in the pending litigation.”

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