The U.S. federal government has filed a lawsuit against regional carrier SkyWest Airlines (NASDAQ: SKYW) after a former employee said the airline placed her on indefinite administrative leave because she complained about being sexually harrassed on the job.
In its lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—which is tasked with enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination—said SkyWest forced a former employee named Sarah Budd to work in a hostile work environment with coworkers and at least one manager who made crude sexual comments and jokes. When Budd complained, the agency alleges the airline retaliated by forcing her to resign through its inaction in addressing her complaints adequately.
In a statement, SkyWest said it has “zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind and has established processes in place to follow up on any reported concerns,” according to an Associated Press news story.
Allegations of Harassment
Budd worked for the airline from 2007 to 2019 in various roles, with her last being as a parts clerk at the airline’s Dallas/Fort Worth facilities. The EEOC lawsuit states that Budd was harassed by coworkers and the maintenance department supervisor in the parts and maintenance divisions, and that it ultimately interfered with her work.
“The sexual harassment included crude sexual comments, jokes, gestures, and mimed assaults directed at Budd,” the agency said in its filing, describing the alleged sexual harrassment endured by Budd. The EOCC said the environment in which Budd was forced to work was one in which “coworkers also made a number of comments making light of rape, suggesting engaging in rape, or arguing that rape victims were lying for attention.”
In its statement, the EEOC said that when Budd reported the issues to management in September 2019, little was done to remedy the situation. Sensing no reprieve after her supervisor allegedly said “any action by him in response to Budd’s complaint would likely put an even larger target on her back,” Budd ultimately took an unpaid medical leave, which lasted from October to December 2019.
No Signs of Change
When Budd returned to work in December, the suit states that the environment had become more hostile, with coworkers continuing to make jokes. Budd ultimately asked her supervisor for a part-time schedule. Days later, when she recounted her coworkers’ behavior to her maintenance supervisor, the EEOC suit alleges that the supervisor responded that “Budd would need to either work her schedule or apply for leave. Otherwise, she could not continue to be an employee.”
After escalating the situation to the human resources department, the airline placed Budd on administrative leave in February 2020. At the same time, the airline’s employee relations manager recommended mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees.
However, in May 2020, when Budd, still on leave, inquired about when she might be able to return, the manager informed her that all employees had not completed the training, so she could not yet return. Ultimately, Budd said she felt forced to resign in May 2020 because the airline failed to return her to work and stopped communicating with her about when she could reasonably expect to resume.
EOCC: ‘Everyone Deserves To Feel Safe at Work’
In its filing, the EOCC said the course taken by SkyWest left Budd “out of the workplace indefinitely with no opportunities to further her professional growth, career advancement, or other inherent benefits of continuing her active employment.” Moreover, the agency said Budd’s extended leave denied her equal opportunities in employment.
The EOCC said its suit comes on the heels of a failed settlement negotiation with SkyWest. On behalf of Budd, the EEOC said it is seeking back-payment, damages, and for the courts to order SkyWest to stop engaging in discriminatory treatment in the future.
In a statement, EEOC trial lawyer, Alexa Lang, said, “Everyone deserves to feel safe at work, and no one should be pushed out of her workplace by pervasive jokes about sexual violence.”