St. Louis Record

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Judge denies to dismiss flight attendant's racial discrimination suit against Trans States Airlines

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Aug 23, 2019


ST. LOUIS – A federal judge has denied an airline's motion to dismiss a female African-American flight attendant's racial discrimination suit.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David D. Noce of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri’s Eastern Division last month ruled to deny Trans States Airlines LLC's motion to dismiss Kinza Abdul-Salaam's suit against it. Trans States moved to dismiss the suit citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction and timeliness.

Abdul-Salaam sued Trans States Airlines LLC over five incidents where she allegedly was a victim of racial discrimination. She alleged she suffered discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and interference and discrimination under the Family Medical Leave Act. Abdul-Salaam was employed by the defendant from February 2013 to April 2017.

In its motion to dismiss, Trans State said that the court didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction and that the case should go to arbitration. It also alleged Abdul-Salaam’s claims were untimely.

When it comes to subject matter jurisdiction, the defendant pointed to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that indicates that Abdul-Salaam is bound to arbitration. The ruling states the agreement does state that flight attendants would be provided FMLA leave in accordance with the law but this is a truism, not a specific intent to make FMLA compliance a contractual commitment.

“In the absence of clear and unmistakable language, the court will not enforce the arbitration provision in the CBA to bar plaintiff’s FMLA claim,” Noce wrote.

As for the claim that the lawsuit is untimely, Noce converted the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Noce said Abdul-Salaam filed a declaration in her response to the motion to dismiss and noted her right-to-sue letter, but she didn’t include those details in her amended complaint.

“Rule 12(d) states that, when a party presents materials outside the pleadings on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which materials are not excluded by the court, ‘the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56,’” the ruling states.

Abdul-Salaam alleges she was on sick leave when her minor grandson attempted to catch a United Airlines flight via her pass rider in August 2016. The agent at the gate allegedly refused to let the child or anyone else on standby, who were all people of color, on the plane. Meanwhile, once the flight was closed, a Caucasian family ran to the gate area and boarded the plane. 

The ruling states a woman who was with Abdul-Salaam’s grandson then called her so she could speak with the gate agent, but the agent refused. Abdul-Salaam then filed a complaint to the United Airline’s EthicsPoint, stating that people of color were the only group not allowed to board a flight. 

The gate agent’s boss then filed their own complaint against Abdul-Salaam, the ruling states. Weeks later, she was questioned about the incident and asked why her grandson was given her pass rider privileges while she was on sick leave. She was then suspended for seven days without pay and her travel benefits were taken away for 90 days, the ruling states.

Another incident allegedly occurred in September 2016. The plaintiff alleges a Caucasian passenger was in an exit row but snubbed the plaintiff as she detailed the safety guidelines. Abdul-Salaam alleges she informed a first officer to help control the matter, who ultimately removed the passenger and an incident report was created. Abdul-Salaam alleges she was instructed to go to a mandatory meeting and was taken off the schedule, but the first officer and the captain, who also were involved in the incident, were allowed to continue their employment.

Three more allegedly similar incidents ensued before she was fired in April 2016 for not going to a disciplinary meeting. She filed a lawsuit on Sept. 14, 2018.

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