Oct. 25, 2019 – Phoenix, Arizona – – A lawsuit filed on behalf of a Southwest Airlines (SWA) flight attendant and her husband alleges two Southwest pilots installed a hidden camera and recorded video of passengers and crew members in the plane’s lavatory during a February 2017 flight.
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman aviation attorneys Ronald L. M. Goldman, Diane Marger Moore and A. Ilyas Akbari, and employment law attorneys John Jeffrey Bouma, Larry J. Cohen and Erin Hertzog from Cronus Law, represent the plaintiffs, Renee Steinaker and David Steinaker.
The Steinakers initially filed their lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona on October 25, 2018 (Case No. CV2018-013417). An amended complaint was filed on June 11, 2019. On August 23, 2019 their case was moved to U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The lawsuit seeks punitive damages against defendants Southwest Airlines Co., a Texas corporation, and SWA pilots Terry Graham and Ryan Russell, who both reside in Texas.
The causes of action cited in the complaint include:
- Intentional or Reckless Infliction of Emotional Distress (Against All Defendants)
- Negligence (Against Southwest Airlines)
- Invasion of Privacy (Against All Defendants)
- Sexual Harassment (Against All Defendants)
- Violation of 29 U.S.C.§ 157-Retaliation (Against Defendant Southwest Airlines)
Renee and David Steinaker are both Southwest Airlines flight attendants who have worked at the company for decades. The couple alleges that Graham and Russell, in the scope of their employment as Southwest pilots, set up a camera in the lavatory in a Southwest plane that recorded and streamed video to an iPad mounted to the windshield of the cockpit.
Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant: Pilots Hid Secret Camera in Plane’s Restroom
On Feb. 27, 2017, Renee Steinaker was one of four flight attendants working aboard SWA Flight 1088, a non-stop flight from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Phoenix, Arizona. The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 commercial airliner, was equipped with both forward and aft lavatories for use by the passengers and crew.
According to the complaint, roughly two and a half hours into the flight, Captain Terry Graham asked for a flight attendant to come into the cockpit so that he could use the restroom. Southwest Airlines protocol required that there be two crew members in the cockpit at all times. For this reason, if a pilot expressed a need to leave the cockpit for any reason, a flight attendant would be obligated to report to the cockpit and remain there until that pilot returned. Ms. Steinaker responded to the Captain Graham’s request by reporting to the front of the aircraft and entering the cockpit after he exited. Upon entering the cockpit, Steinaker observed an iPad mounted to the windshield left of the flight captain’s seat. On the iPad screen, she saw what appeared to her to be a live streaming video of Graham in the forward lavatory. At that point, First Officer Russell was in command of the aircraft due to the Captain’s absence from the cockpit.
Steinaker alleges she asked first officer Ryan Russell whether the iPad was streaming video from a camera in the forward lavatory. According to the allegations, with a panicked look on his face, Russell admitted that it was live streaming.
The lawsuit states that Steinaker had used the forward lavatory during the flight, as had other passengers, including young children.
In confessing that the live stream camera was functioning, Russell tried to convince Steinaker that cameras were a top-secret security measure that had been installed in the lavatories of all Southwest Airlines’ 737-800 planes, the lawsuit alleges; at the same time Russell then “ordered” that Steinaker 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. He also indicated that the camera was hidden in the lavatory so that no one would ever find it, the lawsuit states.
Steinaker advised Russell that she wanted to document her observations to report the issue because she believed she had witnessed criminal or unlawful conduct. She pulled out her mobile phone and took a picture of the iPad which, at the time, displayed Graham in the restroom.
According to the complaint, when Graham came back into the cockpit from the lavatory, Russell left the cockpit and went to the same lavatory that Graham had used. While Steinaker was alone in the cockpit with Graham, she confronted him about the cameras, though he refused to respond to any of her questions. Graham then allegedly blocked Steinaker’s view of the iPad by positioning his arm and shoulder in a manner that obstructed her line of sight.
After she left the cockpit, Steinaker shared her observations with the other flight attendants and showed them the picture she had taken in the cockpit.
When the plane arrived in Phoenix, Graham and Russell immediately disembarked, leaving the plane unattended by piloting staff. According to the lawsuit, this was both unusual and a violation of Southwest Airlines protocol.
Graham, the lawsuit maintains, also left a loaded firearm unattended in the cockpit, violating Federal Aviation Administration regulations and posing a safety hazard to passengers, airline staff, and airport personnel.
According to the lawsuit, Steinaker and other crew members immediately filed a written incident report to Southwest describing what she had observed, along with a copy of her photograph of the iPad. Steinaker specifically expressed her concern for the passengers and crew members, including herself, who had utilized the lavatory on the flight. This report was hand-delivered to Southwest Airlines management personnel.
Steinaker and the other crew members also informed management personnel that Graham and Russell had a short layover in Phoenix and were scheduled to fly another flight to Nashville, Tennessee. If the pilots were permitted to leave, Steinaker worried they would further remove, hide, or destroy evidence of their wrongdoing. She and the other flight attendants requested that management obtain the cockpit recordings from the flight to corroborate the details they described in the 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, Graham and Russell were permitted to depart to Tennessee 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 the airline also directed Steinaker and her fellow crew members to refrain from disclosing the incident to anyone. Steinaker’s supervisor ordered her not to talk to anybody about what happened, the lawsuit alleges. The complaint alleges that the supervisor warned Steinaker: “if this got out, if this went public, no one, I mean no one, would ever fly our airline again.”
Steinaker, Her Husband, Other Flight Attendants on Flight 1088 Have Been Monitored and Intimidated Following Lavatory Incident, Lawsuit Alleges
In the days following the incident, Ms. Steinaker became physically ill at the recognition that Graham and Russell had watched and possibly recorded her, fellow crew members, and passengers disrobing and using the toilet. She was unable to work for several days, sought counseling, and continues to have physical, emotional, and mental injuries as a result of the incident.
The lawsuit alleges that since the incident, Southwest Airlines has engaged in a pattern of retaliation and monitoring efforts to silence and intimidate all four flight attendants on Flight 1088. Renee Steinaker’s husband, David Steinaker, who was not on Flight 1088, also an experienced and long-term flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, has been subject to various forms of harassment by his employer since Renee reported this incident to her superiors at Southwest Airlines.
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.
Renee Steinaker is routinely given performance audits in which a manager gate-checks her and observes her in person during the entire flight, per the complaint. The repeated nature and intensity of these checks distinguish them from the random checks conducted by Southwest before this incident, according to the lawsuit.
Likewise, the lawsuit maintains that David Steinaker was subjected to at least five audits in the course of a few months following the incident, when in his prior 24 years of service, he only had approximately three audits in total.
One or more of the other flight attendants aboard Flight 1088 were subjected to unjustified “random” drug and alcohol testing; one flight attendant was forced to undergo multiple drug tests in a very short time period after the incident, according to the complaint.
As for the pilots, Terry Graham and Ryan Russell, the lawsuit states that neither has been sanctioned by the airline; both continue to pilot commercial flights for Southwest Airlines.
The lawsuit alleges that Southwest Airlines was negligent in hiring, retaining, and supervising Graham and Russell. Despite actual or constructive knowledge of the pilots’ aberrant propensities and actions, the lawsuit maintains that Southwest Airlines breached its duty of care to its employees by failing to take reasonable actions to protect Ms. Steinaker from Graham and/or Russell’s unlawful conduct on Flight 1088 and any subsequent flights on which she may be ordered to work with either of them.
Furthermore, Steinaker contends that, by permitting Graham and Russell to continue flying passengers and crew members without supervision or punishment, knowing that Renee Steinaker is not to discuss the incident with “anyone,” and by failing to inspect the aircraft that Graham and Russell fly to ensure that cameras are not installed in lavatories, Southwest allegedly inflicted and continues to inflict serious physical injury and emotional distress upon her.
Attorneys for the Plaintiff Comment on Lawsuit Against Southwest Airlines
“The cockpit of a commercial airliner is not a playground for peeping toms. Behavior that distracts and distresses crew members during flight compromises safety,” says Steinaker’s attorney, Ronald L. M. Goldman. “Every day that these two pilots are allowed to fly for the airline is another day that our client fears she will have to work with pilots she alleges have caused her significant harm.”
“Our client has been trained that her primary responsibility as a flight attendant is to provide passenger safety and security,” says Diane Marger Moore, who also represents Ms. Steinaker. “It is in large measure because she takes her responsibility to safety and passenger comfort seriously that Ms. Steinaker has risked her career to move forward with her complaint.”
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About Cronus Law
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