Photo: Tom Reel /Staff Photographer
The federal government has sued United Airlines in San Antonio alleging the company failed to protect a female flight attendant from a pilot who had posted nude photos and videos of her on the internet.
Chicago-based United Airlines Inc. discriminated against the flight attendant, identified as Jane Doe, by subjecting her to a sexually hostile work environment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in its lawsuit filed Thursday in San Antonio federal court.
“We have reviewed the allegations in the complaint and disagree with (the) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s description of the situation,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said in an email. “United does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace and will vigorously defend against this case.”
The pilot, Mark Joseph Uhlenbrock, pleaded guilty in June 2016 in San Antonio federal court to a stalking charge and was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison.
The flight attendant dated Uhlenbrock for about five years beginning in 2002 and allowed him to take nude photos and videos of her, according to court documents in his criminal case. He also took a video of her sunbathing nude without her permission, documents said. He later posted them to the internet, the EEOC says.
The flight attendant “diligently and aggressively pursued efforts to stop the sexually offensive conduct,” the EEOC says in its lawsuit. She filed three civil lawsuits against Uhlenbrock in Bexar County. She was able to obtain restraining orders against him in 2009 and 2011 in Bexar County. He also agreed to pay her more than $110,000 to settle the cases, records show.
The woman also complained to United officials and the company’s human resources department in 2011, the EEOC adds.
United, according to the EEOC’s suit, advised the flight attendant that “Uhlenbrock’s conduct purportedly did not constitute sex harassment in the workplace and concluded that it did not warrant intervention or action” by the company.
In 2013, the flight attendant lodged another complaint with United’s HR department. Uhlenbrock was continuing with internet postings — including when he was on layovers while working for the airline, the suit says.
United interviewed Uhlenbrock in November 2013, but the EEOC says the company “failed or refused to meet its responsibilities to conduct sufficient investigation that could be reasonably calculated to be effective.”
The apparent acts of “revenge porn” continued even after she got the court orders, prompting her to turn to the FBI.
Uhlenbrock was arrested by the FBI in May 2015. It seized his computers a few months later, the EEOC says.
Throughout the criminal proceedings, the EEOC says, Uhlenbrock remained employed with United. It granted him long-term disability in January 2016. He remained on the payroll until July 2016 — the month after he pleaded guilty to stalking — and was allowed to retire with full benefits.
United’s failure to to address Uhlenbrock’s actions interfered with the flight attendant’s ability to perform her job, the EEOC says.
Uhlenbrock told FBI agents that he had an addiction to posting the photos.
Uhlenbrock, of suburban St. Louis, is currently incarcerated in a residential re-entry management facility there. He is scheduled to be released in October.
The EEOC seeks a permanent injunction preventing United from allowing a hostile work environment for women. The agency also seeks unspecified financial damages for the flight attendant.
Patrick Danner is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @AlamoPD