Court Bars Detaining Flight Attendants for Questioning

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday preventing American Airlines from detaining flight attendants in order to force them to answer questions from security personnel.

But the order by U.S. District Judge William D. Keller stopped short of allowing representatives of the Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants to be present at such questioning, pointing out that jurisdiction over the matter was subject to binding arbitration.

Not Reinstated

Nor did Keller reinstate several attendants who were fired for insubordination after they refused to answer questions without such representation.

The union, which represents 8,500 American Airlines flight attendants, sued the Dallas-based airline after the carrier began questioning flight crews over the handling of cash for the sale of liquor and audio headsets. Airline audits show that the theft of some funds may have occurred.

The suit contended that the flight attendants' contract with the carrier requires union representation during questioning when a supervisor is present. The airline ignored the contract provision, the union's attorney, Victor Thuesen, had contended.

Attorneys for the airline argued, however, that no supervisors were involved in the questioning and thus union representatives could be barred.

Five-Hour Delay Told

In one instance, the union claimed, a Los Angeles-based flight attendant, Judith Lively of Westlake Village, was detained for nearly five hours at Los Angeles International Airport because she refused to answer questions. She was fired for insubordination but was later reinstated.

While Keller ruled that he had no jurisdiction over sections of the union contract, he did say that detaining an attendant for an unreasonable period of time--once it was clear union representation was denied and that he or she would not answer any questions--was unacceptable.

"American may not detain the flight attendant until he or she 'gives in' and agrees to questioning without a union representative," the ruling said.

Keller's preliminary injunction replaced a temporary restraining order he issued Aug. 1. American spokesman Joe Stroob said the ruling upheld many of the airline's contentions.

"We were enjoined (on detention) from doing something that we weren't doing anyway," he said.

Officials for the flight attendants union, who claimed in the past that incidents like the one described by Lively were frequent, were unavailable for comment late Tuesday.

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