SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against United Airlines, claiming the airline forced one of its female flight attendants to work in a hostile work environment of sexual harassment for several years.
She has been a flight attendant with United for nearly 30 years, the lawsuit said.
In the lawsuit, a former United pilot, Capt. Mark Uhlenbrock, was said to have frequently shared sexually explicit photos of the victim, identified as "Jane Doe," on various websites.
The lawsuit said Doe and Uhlenbrock were in a consensual intimate relationship from 2002 to 2006.
Doe said she allowed Uhlenbrock to take photos and videos of her in provocative poses, but one photo was taken without her knowledge or permission.
In 2006, a male San Antonio gate agent told Doe that he had seen nude photos of her on an internet website for "swingers" -- a term used for swapping partners with others. The man also told Doe that he received additional photos of her after he began chatting with who he thought was her on the website, the lawsuit stated.
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The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, said that's when Doe realized Uhlenbrock had been sharing nude images of her on pornographic websites without her consent and were supposed to remain private.
She then ended her relationship with Uhlenbrock after he refused to stop sharing the images on the internet, the lawsuit said.
"Over the next decade, Uhlenbrock continued to regularly post sexually explicit photos, videos, and stories about Ms. Doe on the internet. Ms. Doe came to learn that these images had been viewed by at least two of her United Airlines co-workers," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Uhlenbrock even included the flight attendant’s name, home airport and incorporated the airline’s "Fly the Friendly Skies" tagline by saying, "Look for her when you fly," when sharing the images online.
Some of the partially nude images also showed Doe in her United Airlines uniform, which furthermore affected the victim’s working environment, the lawsuit said.
Despite filing three civil lawsuits against Uhlenbrock in 2009 and 2010 in Bexar County, the lawsuit said Uhlenbrock continued to post nude images of Doe on the internet.
After management officials failed to recognize Doe's sexual harassment claims, the lawsuit said she filed two formal complaints -- in 2011 and 2013 -- to United Human Resources Department.
The lawsuit said "no adequate disciplinary, preventative or corrective action" was taken by United.
In May 2015, however, Uhlenbrock was arrested by the FBI and charged him with stalking, the lawsuit said.
Despite Uhlenbrock admitting in an interview with United officials of sharing the nude photos and the FBI's involvement, the lawsuit said the airline continued to employ him throughout the federal investigation and court proceedings.
"(United) granted Uhlenbrock long-term disability in January of 2016. He was paid by United Airlines and received benefits during this time. Uhlenbrock remained on (United's) payroll until July of 2016 when he was allowed to retire with full benefits," the lawsuit stated.
In June 2016, Uhlenbrock was sentenced to 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to his stalking charge.
"United failed to prevent and correct the pilot’s behavior, even after the flight attendant made numerous complaints and provided substantial evidence to support her complaints," EEOC said.
In a statement sent to KSAT.com, United defended its handling of Doe's claims against Uhlenbrock.
"We have reviewed the allegations in the complaint and disagree with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s description of the situation. United does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace and will vigorously defend against this case," United said in the statement.
According to the lawsuit, the victim is asking for United to change its employment practices, provide equal opportunities for women and to be compensated for past and future wage losses that include the mental anguish suffered during the harassment.
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