Southwest Airlines flight attendant Renee Steinaker is suing the airline after she says two pilots installed hidden cameras in the plane’s bathroom in order to watch her and the airline’s passengers. The two pilots are also named as defendants in the federal lawsuit.
Steinaker says that she noticed that the pilots had an iPad in the cockpit that was live-streaming video from the plane’s lavatory. Steinaker alleges that after she notified Southwest Airlines, the company retaliated by subjecting her to “threatening” oversight and warned her not to discuss the incident with anyone because it could damage the airline’s reputation.
Steinaker’s husband is also a Southwest Airlines flight attendant and is included as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was initially filed in Maricopa County in Arizona before being transferred to federal court.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Renee Steinaker Says Young Children Had Been Among Those Who Had Used the Bathroom Where the Camera Was Hidden
Renee Steinaker says that during a flight from Pittsburgh to Phoenix in February of 2017, she noticed something unusual in the cockpit. According to the lawsuit filed in Arizona District Court, Steinaker went into the cockpit when Captain Terry Graham got up to use the bathroom. This was standard procedure because two people must be in the cockpit at all times.
Steinaker noticed that there was an iPad mounted to the windshield. On the screen, she could see Graham in the bathroom. Steinaker’s attorney explained in a statement provided to Heavy that the co-pilot, Ryan Russell, “with a panicked look on his face,” admitted the camera was live-streaming in the bathroom. He claimed that the hidden cameras had been installed in all of Southwest’s planes as a security measure.
Steinaker says Russell “ordered” her not to tell anyone about the camera “because she was not supposed to know about this new security measure.” Steinaker explained in the lawsuit that she had used the lavatory earlier in the flight. She added that passengers had been using the bathroom as well, including young children.
Steinaker didn’t believe Russell’s claim that the camera was an airline security measure. She took a photo of the iPad and showed it to three other crew members working on the flight. Later on, Steinaker was in the cockpit alone with Graham while Russell used the bathroom. Steinaker says that she “confronted him about the cameras, though he refused to respond to any of her questions.”
2. Steinaker Claims the Pilots Broke Protocol By Leaving the Plane Immediately After Landing & That Captain Graham Left a Loaded Firearm Unattended In the Cockpit
Renee Steinaker alleges that the two pilots, Terry Graham and Ryan Russell, violated protocol after landing in Phoenix. She says they left the plane as soon as it landed, which goes against FAA regulations. She added that Graham also left a loaded firearm in the cockpit unattended.
In a formal response to the lawsuit, filed in federal court, Graham and Russell denied the majority of Steinaker’s claims. The document states that the “defendants admit they each disembarked the aircraft at some point. Defendants deny they left the aircraft unattended by piloting staff or violated company protocols or applicable laws.”
As for the accusation about the loaded firearm, the document reads: “Defendants admit Defendant Graham is a Federal Flight Deck Officer and is able to fly with a firearm pursuant to federal law. Defendants deny the remaining allegations contained in paragraph 4 of Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint.”
3. Renee Steinaker Claims She Was ‘Stalked & Monitored’ After the Incident & Was Warned Never to Discuss the Incident Publicly Because It Could Damage Southwest Airlines’ Business
Renee Steinaker alleges in the federal lawsuit that the response she received from Southwest Airlines was retaliatory in nature. She claims that the airline warned her and the other crew members to keep the incident quiet. She alleges in the lawsuit that her direct supervisor warned her that “if this got out, if this went public, no one, I mean no one, would ever fly our airline again.”
Steinaker says that after reporting the two pilots, she and her husband, who is also a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, were subjected to much more severe oversight. She explained in a federal court document that she was “stalked and monitored… in a threatening and bizarre manner.”
Steinaker says that she, her husband, and the other crew members from that 2017 flight were all subjected to frequent audits and performance checks. Her attorney explains that the “repeated nature and intensity of these checks distinguish them from the random checks conducted by Southwest before this incident.”
Steinaker says she was unable to work for several days following the incident because she came “physically ill” thinking about the two pilots watching her and passengers in the bathroom. The lawsuit states that the “Defendants inflicted severe emotional distress by extreme and outrageous conduct committed with the intent to cause emotional distress.”
Steinaker attorneys listed the following complaints they are bringing against Southwest Airlines and the pilots in an email to Heavy.
- 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)
4. Southwest Airlines Denies Placing Cameras In Bathrooms; Terry Graham & Ryan Russell Are Still Employed By the Airline
Terry Graham and Ryan Russell are still flying commercial flights for Southwest Airlines, according to Renee Steinaker’s attorneys.
Lawyer Ronald Goldman, who is representing both Steinaker and her husband, said in a statement about the case, “The cockpit of a commercial airliner is not a playground for peeping toms. Behavior that distracts and distresses crew members during flight compromises safety. 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.”
Attorney Diane Marger Moore, who is also on Steinaker’s legal team, added, “Our client has been trained that her primary responsibility as a flight attendant is to provide passenger safety and security. 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.”
Southwest Airlines responded to the lawsuit with a brief statement: “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 on the pending litigation.”
5. Renee Steinaker Has Been Certified as a Flight Attendant Since At Least 2004
Renee Steinaker has been permitted to work as a flight attendant for more than a decade. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Steinaker was granted her certificate on November 15, 2004.
The flight attendant certification requirement was put in place by Congress in 2003. Under the Aviation Reauthorization Act, “no person may serve as a flight attendant aboard an aircraft of an air carrier unless that person holds a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency (certificate) issued by the FAA.”
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