Sexual Assault at 30,000 Feet

Two American Airlines attendants recently filed lawsuits against their employer alleging their employer failed to protect them from repeated drunken sexual assaults by an American Airlines pilot, John Nelson. Janette Beckman and Leanne Hansen’s lawsuit calls this

a shocking example of a patriarchal playground where almost exclusively male assets known as pilots are allowed to roam free to assault flight attendants as they please, while American sits idly by.

Ms. Beckman and Ms. Hansen—veteran flight attendants with over 40 years of service—were working a flight departing from Los Angeles, one Nelson was piloting. After departure, Nelson began asking Ms. Beckman for alcohol. When Ms. Beckman denied him, Nelson grew verbally abusive, spewing sexually explicit and sadomasochistic comments at both Ms. Beckman and Ms. Hansen—“I know you like to be tied up,” he taunted. Ms. Beckman stated that he then “grabbed Hansen by her hips, dug his nails into her hip bones and repeatedly pushed against her body.” When reporting Nelson’s behavior, Ms. Beckman and Ms. Hansen were met with apathy from their employer.

Both women eventually left work on stress leave and filed complaints with American Airlines’ human resources department. Even though AA offered them paid leave at first, that offer was retracted and both attendants spent months on unpaid leave while Nelson received paid leave at the same time. After six months Ms. Hansen and Ms. Beckman received a notice from AA explaining that the “appropriate” action had been taken.

But appropriate action had not been taken at all.

In a lawsuit Ms. Beckman and Ms. Hansen filed, they accuse American of allowing “a known sexual predator to drunkenly harass and physically assault lifelong flight attendants who had devoted their entire professional lives to providing excellent service for American’s customers.”  The lawsuit states that while it harbored a known sexual predator for years, it left veteran flight attendants “disgraced among their peers and isolated from the company to which they have devoted the past four-plus decades, just because they had the courage to stand up to a pilot who sexually assaulted and harassed them in the workplace.”

This incident proves that, despite the creation of the National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force in 2018, not much in the legal department has progressed. The Task Force report, published March 2020, detailed ways airlines should improve the reporting process and prevent more incidents, but this flagrant sexual harassment happened months after the report, indicating that airlines may not be taking the report with the appropriate seriousness.

If you or a loved one encounters a situation in which you have been sexually assaulted or abused, contact the Carter Law Group to receive the compensation you deserve.

For the full report by the National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force, click this link: