Thursday, April 12, 2012

American Airlines sues former flight attendant behind parody videos

DALLAS, Texas (NBC) -- American Airlines filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a flight attendant who was fired last month after making parody videos that poked fun at airline management.

The suit accuses Gailen David of publishing personal flight information for airline executives on his blog and of improperly using airline trademarks -- specifically the letters "AA" on his websites.

"The travel information of American Airlines' passengers is considered both private and confidential, regardless of their relationship to the company," American said in a statement.

The Fort Worth-based airline said it would add current employees to the suit if they are found to be providing confidential information to David and also would take disciplinary action against them, including termination.

David, of Miami, first made a name for himself by posting several home videos -- including some of himself dressed in drag -- that parodied airline management.

The lawsuit filed in Tarrant County District Court did not mention the videos.

"I've kept going with my blog," David said Wednesday. "I've kept talking about things going on with management at American Airlines."

David's blog has publicized personal flight information for current and former airline executives, detailing exactly which flights they were taking.

In some cases, he claimed the executives bumped paying customers from first class to coach, a charge the airline denies.

"The upper management expected me to get tired and stop bringing out the things that are going on with management, and I'm not getting tired," David said.

On his blog, he said the flight information came from "moles."

In a later interview with NBC station KXAS he denied obtaining the information from employees.

"When it comes out how I was receiving that information, it's going to be very embarrassing to American Airlines because I was never getting information from the company's computers," he said. "No employees were ever furnishing that information to me."

Asked how he did get the information, he said, "I'm not telling that."

David said he would defend himself from the lawsuit and vowed to continue to expose what he considers to be wrongdoing by airline management.

"I will not stop," he said. "American Airlines knows that I am a force to be reckoned with, and they are trying to shut me down."

The ongoing battle between American Airlines and an outspoken and recently fired flight attendant is heading to court.

On Tuesday, the Fort Worth-based airline filed a lawsuit against Gailen David and 10 other “John Doe” defendants, alleging, among other things, breach of duty, conspiracy and trade infringement.

The suit is the latest chapter in a saga that traces its roots to David’s role as The Sky Steward, an online alter ego he created in 2007. Last month, he was fired after posting several videos in which he parodied American executives, often dressed as a woman, and took them to task for the airline’s financial troubles.

American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection last fall.

David maintains he was “absolutely” fired because of the videos; the airline says it was because he violated rules regarding passenger privacy, which is also the basis of the current action.

According to the suit, David revealed the travel plans of several American executives and their spouses and claimed that members of the company’s mileage program were bumped from first class to make room for them. The suit also references but doesn’t identify 10 current American employees who allegedly provided David with the information he publicized.

“The travel information of American Airlines' passengers is considered both private and confidential, regardless of their relationship to the company,” said spokesman Bruce Hicks in a statement. “This lawsuit is designed to identify and hold legally accountable those employees who have and who continue to provide private and confidential passenger travel information and personal employee information to former employee Gailen David.”
“I was kind of expecting a lawsuit eventually,” David told He has yet to file a legal response to the suit. “I think they thought that after they fired me, it would take the wind out of my sails, but it didn’t.”

Instead, he suggests that the legal blustering will lead to even more evidence of executive mismanagement. Although he declined to reveal how he got his information, he told that “when it’s revealed how the information was relayed to me, it’s going to be extremely embarrassing to American Airlines.”

In the meantime, experts suggest that if the case goes to court, the outcome will be a function of the court’s views on passenger confidentiality rather than conspiracy, trade infringement or, for that matter, David’s commentary or termination.

“As a general rule, revealing passenger information is beyond the pale,” said Franklyn Steinberg III, an aviation and employment attorney in Somerville, N.J. “But these cases are very much decided on the specific facts of each case. It’s hard to draw on a rule that will decide the situation.”

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