A Southwest Airlines flight attendant filed a lawsuit against the airline for emotional distress, negligence, invasion of privacy, and sexual harassment in 2017, after she claims she entered the cockpit and saw an iPad showing live footage from the plane’s bathroom during a flight. In the two years since the complaint was filed, the flight attendant claims she has been harassed and subjected to increased drug and alcohol tests, monitoring, and performance audits despite “exemplary” records.
The lawsuit alleges that all of the employees involved in the official complaint have faced retaliation from Southwest. This includes Renee Steinaker, the flight attendant who witnessed the iPad, the other flight attendants who reported the incident with her, as well as her husband, who is also a Southwest flight attendant.
On February 27, 2017, Steinaker was one of four flight attendants flying from Pittsburgh, PA to Phoenix, AZ. Steinaker was asked to stand in the cockpit about two and a half hours into the flight in order to fulfill the policy that two people must remain in the cockpit at all times while Capt. Terry Graham went to the bathroom, according to her statement. Upon entering the cockpit, Steinaker noticed an iPad which appeared to be streaming live video from one of the bathrooms aboard the plane. The lawsuit alleges that the co-pilot, Ryan Russell, admitted that the iPad was streaming live video from the bathroom, and that it was a security measure present on all Boeing 737-800 planes. Steinaker took a photo of the iPad that reportedly shows Graham using the bathroom at the time. When Graham returned and Russell went to use the bathroom, Steinaker says she questioned him about the iPad and he refused to respond while he attempted to block her view of the iPad.
Neither Graham nor Russell have responded publicly to the allegations.
According to Steinaker, both pilots said the camera was a “top-secret security measure” that Steinaker was not allowed to tell anyone about. Southwest denies any top secret security measures that require hidden cameras to be installed in the bathrooms on their planes.
“We can confirm from our investigation that there was never a camera in the lavatory,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “The incident was an inappropriate attempt at humour, which the company did not condone.” According to the suit, Steinaker was warned by the airline that “if this got out, if this went public, no one, I mean no one, would ever fly our airline again.”
According to court documents, Steinaker told the other flight attendants what she saw and showed them the picture of the iPad. When the flight landed, she and the other crew members filed a written incident report to Southwest asking the airline to seize the iPad and save the cockpit voice recording from the flight. Steinaker’s lawyer, Ronald Goldman, said to The New York Times it is unclear if the airline did either of those things. The complaint alleges that both Graham and Russell left the plane immediately after it landed, violating the airline’s protocol. During their quick departure, Graham allegedly left a loaded firearm unattended in the cockpit, which violates Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
“In my opinion, they have treated it as some sort of joke or a prank between frat boys,” Goldman said of Southwest’s response to the complaint in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I have no indication that they have taken this as seriously as it needed to be.”