A former flight attendant with Delta is suing the airline for employee discrimination, alleging that she was wrongfully terminated for sharing an image that depicted former President Donald Trump in a Ku Klux Klan hood on her personal social media.
Leondra Taylor, who is Black, filed the lawsuit against her former employer last Monday in a federal district court in Atlanta, where Delta – which is one of the only major US airlines where cabin crew are not represented by a union – is headquartered.
In the lawsuit, Ms Taylor concedes that she did indeed reshare the editorial cartoon but contends that she was discriminated against “because of her race”, and that her resharing of the post was a “political statement”, and it did not amount to being “hateful or discriminatory”.
In the editorial cartoon, which was first published by the Montreal Gazette in 2020 and was created by the artist Terry Mosher, it shows the former presidential nominees Joe Biden and Mr Trump squaring off in one of their first presidential debates in the fall of 2020.
The moderator in the debate, Chris Wallace, commends the one-term president for wearing a mask, with the caption written in bubble words above the two men reading: “Thank you, Mr. President, for wearing your mask.”
Mr Trump, who stands across from his Democratic rival at the lectern, is shown in the editorialised image wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, a commentary that was likely derived from the moment in the debate when Mr Wallace asked the former president to condemn White supremacist groups – such as the Proud Boys – to which Mr Trump responded by saying: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
According to the lawsuit, Ms Taylor’s online activity on her personal Facebook page was flagged to managers by one of her co-workers back in January 2021 and the airline reportedly found the content they believed to be “in violation of its social media policy”.
Ms Taylor was informed by a group of employees with the Atlanta-based company that her posts online were unacceptable, and they added that the company doesn’t “tolerate, disrespectful, hateful or discriminatory posts,” according to the lawsuit.
In Delta’s code of ethics for employees, it stipulates that “misuse of social or traditional media channels can lead to discipline, including termination of your employment with Delta” and in the section on employees’ political activity, it states: “We respect the rights of employees to be involved personally in their communities and political affairs, including making their own personal political contributions and expressing their personal political views.”
After Ms Taylor’s first confrontation with her employer about her online conduct, the lawsuit states she was notified about Delta’s intent to “suspend her employment,” with one of her managers specifically citing her Facebook posts as being “racially motivated,” which the company later detailed as being the cause for her termination in April 2021.
For Ms Taylor’s part, she contends that by sharing the editorial cartoon, which was originally created by Mr Mosher (who goes by the moniker Aislin as an artist), she was making a political statement and not a racially charged one.
The cartoon of Mr Trump in the KKK hood, the lawsuit reads, “simultaneously made a statement about Trump’s denial of the need for Covid protective measures, and that racial discrimination against African Americans was a systemic issue starting at the top, with the then president.”
When reached for comment by The Independent, a spokesperson for the airline countered Ms Taylor’s allegations of discrimination and claimed that the former employees’ narrative of events were “not accurate or complete”.
“When Delta employees intermix Delta’s brand with conduct or content that does not reflect our values of professionalism, inclusion, and respect, that conduct can result in discipline or termination,” the Delta spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
“While personnel issues are considered private between Delta and its employees, the circumstances described by our former employee are not an accurate or complete explanation of the company’s termination decision.”
Ms Taylor, who also claims in the federal lawsuit that non-Black employees at the American airline weren’t penalised for the same online activity as their Black co-workers, is suing for punitive damages in what it describes as the “defendant’s willful, malicious, intentional, and deliberate acts”, lost wages and general damages for suffering caused by mental and emotional suffering.
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