A lesbian couple can move forward with their lawsuit alleging they were harassed by an Allegiant Air flight attendant and removed from a plane just before departure in 2016 because of their sexual orientation, a judge ruled Monday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis rejected defense arguments that the women were actually taken off the aircraft for safety reasons, making their state claims precluded by federal law.
The allegations in the 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 allege they were harassed by the same Allegiant flight attendant, Valerie Hawkins-Gerry, on two separate flights.
Las Vegas-based Allegiant maintains 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.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Jessica Walker countered that her clients were never told they were being removed for safety reasons and that the couple’s removal was part of a larger pattern of “harassing and humiliating remarks directed at the family.”
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 their homebound flight 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 alleges.
Another Allegiant employee, identified in the complaint only as “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, according to their lawsuit. However, 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 their court papers.
But according to Allegiant, the airline’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 their children from the plane, the Allegiant court papers stated.