Allegiant Air maintains in newly filed court papers that a lesbian couple who sued the carrier, alleging they were harassed by a flight attendant and removed from a plane just before departure in 2016 because of their sexual orientation, were actually taken off the aircraft for safety reasons.
The allegations in the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed in October 2017 by Stacy Ziegler King and Christina King include civil rights violations, discrimination, breach of contract and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiffs, who are seeking unspecified damages, allege they were harassed by the same Allegiant flight attendant on two separate flights.
But Allegiant’s court papers state that the couple’s treatment had nothing to do with their sexual orientation.
“Plaintiffs’ removal from the flight, the sole basis for their claims, involved Allegiant’s policies and procedures for emergency exit row seating, a critical responsibility imposed by the FAA to ensure the safety of passengers in the event of an emergency evacuation,” according to Allegiant’s court papers.
The airline is seeking dismissal of the couple’s lawsuit, maintaining that their state law claims are precluded by federal law. A hearing is scheduled Monday before Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis.
According to their complaint, the women and their sons, ranging in age from 23 to 13, flew from Bellingham, Washington, to Los Angeles in October 2016 so Stacy King could attend her mother’s cremation service. Stacy King works as a court-appointed guardian for children and Christina King is an attorney, their court papers say.
The couple and one of their sons sat in one row and the other three sons were in a separate row. Flight attendant Valerie Hawkins-Gerry was pleasant at first, but became “hostile and rude” to the women after Stacy King laid her head on her partner’s shoulder and the two held hands, according to their lawsuit.
Hawkins-Gerry was “short” with both plaintiffs until the end of that flight, and also was working the return flight the women and their sons took three days later, the suit says.
Before the homebound plane took off from Los Angeles International Airport, Hawkins-Gerry asked Stacy King whether she was the mother of the couple’s sons, according to the suit. Stacy King responded that she did not think the question was relevant, but the flight attendant “continued with hostile and harassing questioning,” according to the couple’s court papers.
They allege Hawkins-Gerry later insisted that Stacy King move back a row to sit with three of the couple’s sons, telling her “you’re the mom” and insisting that a parent has to sit with minor children. Instead of complying with the flight attendant’s demands, the plaintiffs got up and sat with their 13-year-old son, which appeared to upset Hawkins-Gerry because the women were sitting together, the suit says.
Hawkins-Gerry’s anger intensified because she believed three of the boys were not paying attention when she gave exit row safety instructions, the suit states. The flight attendant left and returned with another Allegiant employee, identified in the lawsuit only as “Krystal,” who told the couple that Hawkins-Gerry did not believe the boys understood the safety instruction, according to the plaintiffs.
After Stacy King explained that the family flew often and understood the Federal Aviation Administration requirements, Hawkins-Gerry began “screaming that she wanted all of them off the plane” and another flight attendant, identified only as “Mark,” laughed and said, “you’re out of here,” the suit alleges.
Stacy King told Hawkins-Gerry that she believed the couple was being singled out because they are lesbians, and the flight attendant “did not deny this,” according to the complaint, which says that Krystal escorted the two women and their boys off the flight, apologized to them, offered to refund the money they paid for their tickets and said she would try to find them an alternate flight.
Allegiant did not have another flight back to Bellingham for several days, so the family had to take a flight on another airline, according to the plaintiffs’ court papers.
But according to Allegiant’s court papers, Allegiant’s policy prohibited Stacy King from sitting in an emergency exit row seat if she was responsible for a minor seated in a different row.
“Upon being instructed to relocate to her minor child’s row, (Stacy King) became outraged, loudly demanding an explanation and asking to be shown a copy of the applicable regulations,” according to Allegiant’s court papers.
Stacy King eventually complied and moved to another seat, but her anger did not subside and, with departure of the flight imminent, the crew decided to remove the couple and the children from the plane, the Allegiant court papers state.
“Although it had no contractual obligation to do so, Allegiant refunded the family’s airline tickets,” according to Allegiant’s court papers, which further allege the couple sued after their demand for further compensation was denied.