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 msnbc.com. 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 msnbc.com 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.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.
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