Legal

Former United Flight Attendant Files Whistle-Blower Lawsuit

By Paul Merrion

Jul. 2, 2012

A former United Airlines flight attendant alleged in Cook County Circuit Court last week that he was fired for complaining about the carrier’s routine violations of federal passenger boarding regulations.

Claiming a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act and other laws, Malcolm Hamilton alleged he was fired after reporting to the Federal Aviation Administration that United had an “unofficial, unspoken policy” requiring flight attendants to file false reports on when all arriving passengers had left the plane, to avoid an “overlap” with reports on when departing passengers start boarding.

FAA regulations and United’s stated policies require all arriving passengers to leave the plane before boarding can start, the lawsuit said, but financial pressures have led United to minimize the amount of time spent at the gate between flights.

Hamilton also claimed he was fired for refusing to keep inaccurate records on the “holding time” between a plane’s arrival at the gate and when passengers are allowed to start boarding. In his suit, he said he started working at United in 1997 and was a flight attendant for three years before he was terminated on July 12, 2010.

The suit also said that United admitted during a union arbitration hearing that “it had boarded aircraft during holding time, before all arriving passengers had deplaned.”

Spokespeople for United, a unit of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., and the Association of Flight Attendants union did not return calls seeking comment.

Hamilton’s attorneys, Roy Amatore and Paul Luka of Chicago-based Amatore & Associates P.C., were not available for comment.

Paul Merrion writes for Crain’s Chicago Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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