A new lawsuit alleges some pretty disturbing things that a United employee said to a passenger. A Houston-area actress and motivational speaker is suing United after a February 26 flight.
She was waiting for her luggage in Houston when she asked a United Airlines representative about speaking to someone about getting reimbursed after her flight canceled and she had to make her way to a different airport.
The passenger claims that the United employee told her to stop looking at her with her “monkey face” and also called her a “shining monkey.”
The woman’s lawyer alleges that other people witnessed the incident, and asked the United agent to calm down.
She asked United employees to call the police, but they didn’t, so she called them herself. The United employee received a citation for disorderly conduct.
Obviously we don’t fully know what the exchange was like. It could have been that the exchange got heated on both sides, though there is absolutely nothing that excuses speaking to a customer (or any human, for that matter) in such a way.
The passenger’s attorney had the following to say:
“Unfortunately, the racism experienced by Cacilie was not an isolated incident with United Airlines, but part of a companywide pattern of racial discrimination. We are going to fight to enforce Cacilie Hughes’ civil rights, to ensure that United Airlines eliminates its practice of racial discrimination, and to ensure the ongoing criminal prosecution of United Airline’s racist employee Carmella. Racial slurs like ‘shining monkey’ should be relics of history, not resurrected to fuel the fire of racism faced by so many African Americans in today’s society and condoned on United Airlines flights.”
Meanwhile United issued the following statement:
“At United, we believe that the diversity of our workforce makes us stronger. Together, we proudly hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. This incident is deeply offensive and does not reflect the fundamental values of our company and our 90,000 employees. That is why we took immediate action to remove this individual from the job. Since then, we have been following all of the required procedures under this individual’s union contract and are actively pursuing termination.”
Here’s a Click2Houston news story about the incident, including an interview with the passenger:
I can’t personally vouch for whether or not United has a culture of racism. For what it’s worth, American Airlines has been accused of the same, and the unfortunate reality may just be that racism is still alive and well in our country, and that’s reflected in a lot of major companies.
What I can say is that I find there’s a disconnect between how United management seems to view their employees, and the reality of interacting with United’s frontline staff. United said that the Dr. Dao incident was a turning point for the airline, though I’m not so sure.
Like every other airline, United has some good employees, though in my opinion they also have some of the most openly hostile employees of any airline.
For one, this isn’t the first case of a United employee acting in such an extreme way. This is the same airline where a customer service representative pushed a 71 year old man to the ground:
When I fly United, I feel like all too often gate agents and flight attendants are barking orders at passengers, rather than treating them like valued guests. Obviously calling someone a monkey is on a completely different level, but I do think United has a long way to go when it comes to their culture.