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Delta Flight Attendant Fired for Blogging

Delta Flight Attendant Fired for Blogging

This photo, which Simonetti put up on her blog, is one Delta deemed "inappropriate."

BusinessWeek

July 22, 2008

The day Ellen Simonetti came home to her Austin (Tex.) condominium in September 2004 and checked her answering machine messages, she had no idea they’d change her life dramatically. Simonetti, a Delta flight attendant for nearly eight years, was getting ready for one of her regularly assigned trips to Italy.

“They said: ‘Please call. It’s about your trip tomorrow,’” she recalls. Simonetti then phoned a Delta international in-flight supervisor to find out what the problem was. “She said, ‘You can’t fly to Rome tomorrow.’ When I asked why, she said, ‘You don’t know? It’s about pictures on the Web,’ And I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach.”

The photographs, which launched a chain of events including Simonetti’s dismissal, subsequent appearances on The Today Show and Montel Williams, and a lawsuit against Delta, appeared on the Journalspace.com blog she created in January 2004.

“I had just lost my mother in September of 2003,” Simonetti explains. “It really hit me hard, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. So I heard about blogging and started to write about being a flight attendant and the pain I was feeling. It was like therapy to me.”

In the blog, first titled “Diary of a Flight Attendant” and later “Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant” (and ultimately “Diary of a Grounded Flight Attendant” and “Diary of a Human Being”), Simonetti referred to herself as “Queen of Sky” (and a few times just as “Ellen”) and mostly in the third person. The journal captured mundane events from her day-to-day life such as:

Well, Queen of Sky is just having a BAD morning. The flight from Lima went O.K., but there was a ground delay in Lima because the captain decided to change his routing at the last minute. So they took off over half an hour late, around 1 a.m.

and

Well, Queen of Sky is going to relax now and maybe have a foot massage and then have lunch before napping before the all-night flight back to Bustling Base City. Some of the crew were going to the tailor today. Queen of Sky once again forgot to bring the things she needs altered.

Although Simonetti never gave her last name or mentioned her employer’s name (she referred to it as Anonymous International Airline) in the blog, she was wearing a Delta uniform in the photographs, which show her relaxing on a jet on the ground in between flights. Except for one slightly racy shot that depicts her leaning over her seat with a patch of her brassiere showing, the pictures are pretty much G-rated.

Simonetti says she and another Delta flight attendant took the pictures just for fun. One of them showed her friend posing inside an overhead cabinet. “We were on the ground when the pictures were taken,” she says. “We don’t get paid until the door shuts and the plane pushes back. So I wasn’t on the clock when this happened. There was no policy against taking pictures in uniform on a plane, and I still don’t know of any policies against posting pictures on the Web.”

Nonetheless, her superiors were not amused, and even though Simonetti removed the pictures from her blog right after the initial phone call, the airline sent her supervisor and a human resources representative to speak to her, and suspended her without pay a week after the meeting.

“I brought a friend with me to the meeting, but they said, ‘No, he can’t come with you. This is between Delta people.’ They asked, ‘Do you have a Web site?’ and ‘Do you post pictures of yourself on the Web site?’ and what the name of my Web site was,” Simonetti says. She was also told the photographs were inappropriate. “They basically interrogated me and forced me to write up statements. They made me feel like a criminal. I asked what they meant by ‘inappropriate’ pictures. They said they’d get back to me.” Terminated for Inappropriate Behavior

During a phone call three weeks after the meeting, a Delta representative told her the carrier was terminating her employment “based on inappropriate photographs in the Delta uniform on the Web site.” According to Simonetti, Delta never explained what made the photos unacceptable or where in the employee manual it said that posting pictures in a Delta uniform was forbidden.

Simonetti never learned how Delta stumbled upon her blog in the first place. “By the time I was suspended, I was only getting 150 to 200 visitors a day,” she says. “I felt very comfortable with the blog, because ‘nobody read it.’ But when people would Google ‘flight attendant,’ I guess it would come up.”

In between the suspension and dismissal, Simonetti filed a sex discrimination claim with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which provided a “right to sue letter” she could use in a lawsuit later. “I found pictures of male Delta flight attendants and pilots on Match.com in their uniforms with their ‘turn-ons and turn offs’ listed. And some of them even mentioned they worked for Delta,” she says. Yet the airline apparently took no action against them. Because Delta flight attendants don’t have a union, she hired a private lawyer in an attempt to get her job back.

Simonetti’s suit against Delta is pending, and she was never able to get another job in the airline industry, despite the media attention she received after the firing. (Her appearances on TV and mentions of her in articles were usually sympathetic to her predicament.) She now works selling real estate and is back in school, studying radio, TV, and film at the University of Texas at Austin. However, she says she still misses her flight attendant job and her old co-workers and is upset about the blog episode.

See the pictures that got her fired.

The question remains: Did Delta take gratuitously drastic measures over a bunch of silly pictures on the Web or was Simonetti guilty of irresponsible behavior that could have harmed the carrier?


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