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Cockpit, amirite?
March 30, 2009 8:37 AM   Subscribe

United Airlines settles suit over hidden porn United Airlines has settled a federal sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by a former pilot who grounded herself after repeatedly finding pornography hidden in the cockpits of domestic airline flights. Before settling, the airline appeared to equate art nudes and porn as part of its defense. The idea of cockpit-as-boyzone has been shot down before.

Back in the cabin, passengers are more directly constrained. Fight attendants are worried about the impact of new technology. Some passengers complain that Southwest believes in taking it outside.
posted by Kirth Gerson (175 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Kirth Gerson: "...has been shot down before"

GROAN
posted by Plutor at 8:47 AM on March 30, 2009


The "idea" hasn't been "shot down" but SUPPORTED by that lawsuit.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:56 AM on March 30, 2009


Wait wait wait. You can get porn on paper now?
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Southwest plane thing is a weird ad move for a company that refused to allow a woman to fly after declaring her blouse was too revealing.
posted by Science! at 8:58 AM on March 30, 2009


The airline claims she claimed a "mental condition ... so that she could get long-term disability payments to support her art career."
posted by stbalbach at 8:58 AM on March 30, 2009


I'm not quite sure I understand this though. Originally weren't sexual harassment laws meant to help women gain more equality in the workplace? The idea is: if you go to work and guys constantly hit on you or make sexist jokes or whatever, then that means that the workplace is literally a hostile place. You can't advance, you're miserable, you're more apt to quit, etc.

But seems like the definition has changed and become an excuse for creeping puritanicalism. I don't understand how just discovering a porno mag could possibly be harassment I mean who is doing the harassing?

I mean, there is a just a huge difference between someone who is being targeted in a way that men would not be, and freaking out because you have some bizarre sex phobia.
posted by delmoi at 8:58 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


United Airlines has settled a federal sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by a former pilot who grounded herself after repeatedly finding pornography hidden in the cockpits of domestic airline flights.

Apparently not very well hidden, unless she needed to use the ashtray of course. And who actually left the porn? Capt. Lisa Stout?

Stout logged each instance in the flight log and had maintenance workers take the photos down, according to court filings.

Had to have maintenance workers take the photos down? Afraid of blood borne pathogens or something?

According to her lawsuit, she developed a "severe condition" that required her to take medication and, ultimately, ground herself in August 2005.

Seriously? This would be known as the set-up for the suit.

The airline also argued that she was motivated to claim a "mental condition ... so that she could get long-term disability payments to support her art career,"

This sounds like the most plausible scenario with arts funding being what it is.
posted by MikeMc at 8:59 AM on March 30, 2009


The "idea" hasn't been "shot down" but SUPPORTED by that lawsuit.

Huh? Idea: "let's have the cockpit be a boyzone" Shot down: "Judge says you can't do that". Seems like the idea was shot down to me.
posted by delmoi at 9:00 AM on March 30, 2009


The photos were mostly found in hidden spots, such as under a cap on a safety device known as a "stick shaker," or taped to the lid of the unused ashtray.

Ashtray?
posted by ninebelow at 9:03 AM on March 30, 2009


By the way, I'm not saying that I really want my airline pilots spanking it mid-flight. Obviously companies should be able to set porn policies, but I think the idea that you should be able to sue because you see porn somewhere doesn't seem to fit with the original idea behind sexual harassment laws, unless we take it as a given that women are delicate flowers who's sensibilities just get upset so easily in the presence of anything sexual.
posted by delmoi at 9:04 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why is it that, regardless of the question of whether it is appropriate for employees to be taping porn about the place, the people who bring these suits so often come across as workshy flakes?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:12 AM on March 30, 2009


Waaaaait a minute, it was barely two months ago I was tricked into watching a naked Ben Kingsley writhing all over a naked Penélope Cruz on the back of a major airline headrest, while a flight attendant refreshed my OJ and pretzel pack.

Was I sexually harassing the attendant? Was I being sexually harassed? Because I certainly felt violated. Is pern on planes OK as long as the nudity and sex makes you want to chuck?
posted by dgaicun at 9:13 AM on March 30, 2009


But seems like the definition has changed and become an excuse for creeping puritanicalism. I don't understand how just discovering a porno mag could possibly be harassment I mean who is doing the harassing?

Yep, absolutely. I recall an askme where an employee thought she saw something on her boss's screen when she came in and he minimized a window hurriedly, then she made sure to pass by later to try to catch him again, then went in her boss's office when he wasn't there and rummaged through the boss's computer to find a browsing history which included porn sites. She felt harassed by this.

Think about it. She went completely out of her way to dig and find something, and then said she was feeling harassed by the boss's behaviour.

This is the face of sexual harassment in the US. If anything at all that doesn't touch you directly in any way bothers you, you can claim harassment.

I'm not saying porn mags in a shared office space is the same at all. But I do think there's a case to be made that harassment is getting redefined to cover too many situations that aren't harassment in the least.
posted by splice at 9:16 AM on March 30, 2009


I think the bigger issue was that, not only was she finding porn in all the cockpits, but that she'd been reporting it rather diligently for quite a while and the only response was to send out an incredibly vague email about putting 'improper items' in the cockpits. So, as a result, nothing changed, she kept finding porn everywhere, and that's when things really turned downhill.

Honestly, I'm with her in some respects, but I do think that the lawsuit got a little ridiculous (serious mental health issues? Plausible I guess, but related to finding porn?) with the both her own claims and some of the attacks made against her.

Frankly I don't think I'd really like working somewhere where I kept finding porn all over, either. I still think of work as a relatively 'professional' environment. But that could just be me. It's cool to share porn with your friends but when you're leaving it around where anyone can find it (and where they're meant to) is kind of weird.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:18 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not quite sure I understand this though. Originally weren't sexual harassment laws meant to help women gain more equality in the workplace?

The majority of suits, like this one, aren't so much "sexual harassment", but simply "harassment". My company's HR department subjects its employees to yearly lectures on the laws that govern these things and the internal channels for escalating issues. Basically, "harassment" is a very broad umbrella term for anything and everything that someone else does that makes someone else uncomfortable (not including normal workloads, of course).
posted by Burhanistan at 9:19 AM on March 30, 2009


Stout logged each instance in the flight log and had maintenance workers take the photos down, according to court filings.

Had to have maintenance workers take the photos down? Afraid of blood borne pathogens or something?


Why wouldn't you want a third party to verify the existence of the porn? Isn't that best practices in harassment cases?

Honestly if I had to share a workstation and was routinely finding porn under the keyboard, I'd be complaining to my employer as well. Which Stout did, but United ignored her complaint.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:20 AM on March 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


Switch the porn pictures with the picture of a devil and you have the basis for a pretty good Twilight Zone episode.
posted by digsrus at 9:20 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


But seems like the definition has changed and become an excuse for creeping puritanicalism.

It's a tricky subject, because there are subtle things that can create a hostile work environment for people that can have the same negative effects that an over-the-top sexist or racist environment can. Where I work, the official harassment policy (which includes everything: gender, religion, age, sexual preference, etc.) says something along the lines of "Don't do or say anything unwelcome that will offend someone." And it goes on to say that just because someone doesn't complain to you directly or even reacts positively by laughing and whatnot does not mean that you haven't violated the policy.

On the one hand, these policies make sense because everyone has the right to work in a place that doesn't make them feel miserable, no matter who they are and what their views are. But on the other hand, it does create a fairly stifling cultural environment in which many people are afraid to be themselves or voice their opinions due to the possibility of offending someone. It's a tough balancing act, and there are no easy answers.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:21 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why is it that, regardless of the question of whether it is appropriate for employees to be taping porn about the place, the people who bring these suits so often come across as workshy flakes?

Because suppression of the nasty details that might make the plaintiff sound like a reasonable person working in an intolerable environment is, in fact, almost always why the company settled and paid through the nose.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:22 AM on March 30, 2009 [20 favorites]


It seems to me that context is playing a huge role in the "to porn or not to porn" issue.

If I were working as, say, a delivery driver using a company vehicle, I would generally not expect to find photos of naked women hidden above the sun visor, or inside the glove compartment, or whatever, because it's a company vehicle and should be kept neutral and clean and ready for use by anyone in the company.

If I were sitting down to watch a movie with Penelope Cruz, I might be expecting to see some naked body thing happening.

Let's put this another way -- in the overwhelmingly male populated airline pilot club, how do you think they would respond if someone were posting naked furry man with erect penis pictures in all their little hiding places in the cockpits?

Porn is not created equal, neither is harassment. Context is everything.
posted by hippybear at 9:24 AM on March 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


As attempts to put an upstart in their place, I don't see a lot of difference between male pilots leaving porn in a female pilot's workspace and white pilots leaving Confederate flags in a black pilot's workspace. The judge certainy seems to have felt that Capt. Stout had a legitimate enough beef to take up a jury's time with it.

If Stout is pissed off enough at her former employer to want to make them pay for a life of leisure, I'm not sure I blame her.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:28 AM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


Why wouldn't you want a third party to verify the existence of the porn? Isn't that best practices in harassment cases?

Maybe I'm just a cynic but I'm thinking she wanted others to see the porn with an eye towards a lawsuit.

Honestly if I had to share a workstation and was routinely finding porn under the keyboard, I'd be complaining to my employer as well.


It sounds like these pictures were hidden in out of the way places, almost as if you would have to go looking for the stuff. Something just isn't adding up, I could be wrong but she wouldn't be the first person to manufacture evidence with an eye towards getting paid.
posted by MikeMc at 9:28 AM on March 30, 2009


If I were working as, say, a delivery driver using a company vehicle, I would generally not expect to find photos of naked women hidden above the sun visor...

I see you've never known any delivery drivers.
posted by Benjy at 9:29 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Court documents show that Stout, a United 737 captain based out of Seattle, found pornographic photos of women on more than 20 flights in 2004 and 2005. Her lawsuit alleged that United's efforts to catch the perpetrators were inadequate and the company retaliated against her after she reported it.

I'd be especially curious to know more about this; it seems like if the company did anything seriously wrong, it's probably here. Punishing your employees for reporting problems is bad news.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:30 AM on March 30, 2009


I don't think that William Shatner would have been so terrified if he'd been able to see a little girl on girl action out on the wing of the plane.
posted by willmize at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


My first thought, as an occasional airline passenger, is that I wouldn't want one of the people who is in charge of keeping my plane in the air being distracted by any sort of weird, completely unnecessary and avoidable workplace problem. It's impossible to know from the information given if this stuff was targeted at Stout, but I can certainly see how something like this could be a distraction in a complicated and sometimes stressful environment ("okay, we've got some moderate wind shear, I've got to adjust the starboard flaps to....oh jesus christ, another titty picture"). Seems like a problem to me. It sounds like it wasn't getting properly addressed by management through the regular administrative channels. Maybe a lawsuit made sense.
posted by otolith at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I see you've never known any delivery drivers.

And yet, I used that example deliberately because of the 5 years I spent at a local delivery company. I wonder who all those people were I was working next to?
posted by hippybear at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


while a flight attendant refreshed my OJ and pretzel pack.

Is that what they're calling it these days?
posted by Curry at 9:34 AM on March 30, 2009


From the second link (which is a 1997 story):
The case exposed the long tradition among male airline pilots of leaving surprises in the cockpit for the next crew: lewd pictures slipped into flight manuals, hidden behind equipment panels and pasted in drawers.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:35 AM on March 30, 2009


But seems like the definition has changed and become an excuse for creeping puritanicalism. I don't understand how just discovering a porno mag could possibly be harassment I mean who is doing the harassing?

That's not how I read the case at all. Rather, the pornography was taped up in strategic places around the cockpit for her (or another pilot, it's not clear that she was targeted) to find during the regular course of her time there. It's the difference between stumbling on something objectionable and having it placed somewhere that you'll have to see it. It's a sexist joke that one pilot leaves for another.

And from the article:
Stout also claimed she came under scrutiny from management after the reports, and was docked pay for refusing to fly because she was fatigued — even though United boasts a "no fault" program allowing pilots to pull themselves from the flight line for fatigue and not face retaliation.

United insists that the instances were not related and that Stout was a difficult and abrasive employee. The judge, however, noted that United "reprimanded and red-flagged" Stout only after she had complained and that, before that, she had no performance issues or problems with her supervisors.
I think Stout's mental issues might have stemmed more from the treatment she received once she made the reports, rather than being shocked by the actual pornography.
posted by gladly at 9:35 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder who all those people were I was working next to?

Replicants.
posted by MikeMc at 9:36 AM on March 30, 2009


But seems like the definition has changed and become an excuse for creeping puritanicalism. I don't understand how just discovering a porno mag could possibly be harassment I mean who is doing the harassing?

It's harassment if it's being left around for the pilot to discover, which seems the most plausible scenario.

As attempts to put an upstart in their place, I don't see a lot of difference between male pilots leaving porn in a female pilot's workspace and white pilots leaving Confederate flags in a black pilot's workspace.

Exactly. And the company only moved to settle when a judge ruled that a jury could find them liable for punitive damages.
posted by jokeefe at 9:37 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, the comments in this thread are depressing... how hard is it to understand that leaving porn around in a cockpit for a female pilot to find is clearly harassment?
posted by jokeefe at 9:38 AM on March 30, 2009 [31 favorites]


I have no problem with this. Porn in the cockpits? C'mon, pilots, grow the fuck up.
That is, until...

According to her lawsuit, she developed a "severe condition" that required her to take medication and, ultimately, ground herself in August 2005.
No you fucking didn't. It's perfectly fine to say that you were grossed out by finding porn in your workplace, complained, and nothing was changed. But adding the whole "I was just so traumatized I developed an illness" bullshit isn't helping at all, and makes this seem like the perfect 'why we need tort reform' case.
posted by graventy at 9:43 AM on March 30, 2009


United argued that Stout could not have been offended by the sexually explicit photos because she once worked in a retail store that sold pornographic magazines, she sometimes sketched nudes as an artist and she had attended art shows displaying photos of nude women.

Because nudity equals pornography.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:44 AM on March 30, 2009


Also, the comments in this thread are depressing... how hard is it to understand that leaving porn around in a cockpit for a female pilot to find is clearly harassment?

I think it's harassment regardless of the gender who finds it. Why should it be acceptable for one to encounter such things unexpectedly in the midst of one's workday? It's inappropriate, unprofessional, and shouldn't be happening.
posted by hippybear at 9:44 AM on March 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


It's harassment if it's being left around for the pilot to discover, which seems the most plausible scenario.

It seems most plausible to me that she was hiding the porn in the cockpit to set-up the lawsuit. Something about the particulars of this story just strike me as wrong.
posted by MikeMc at 9:47 AM on March 30, 2009


Oh Metafilter. Maybe it's true that the discussions are getting kind of.... degraded around here. Because the level of vitriol here is a bit surprising and disturbing.
posted by jokeefe at 9:50 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


and freaking out because you have some bizarre sex phobia.

Jesus. Has porn become so normalized in some eyes that women are expected to just be good sports about confronting it in their workplaces?
posted by jokeefe at 9:53 AM on March 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


MikeMc, please look at my previous comment. The "long tradition" part may change your assessment of probabilities.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:53 AM on March 30, 2009


...I don't see a lot of difference between male pilots leaving porn in a female pilot's workspace and white pilots leaving Confederate flags in a black pilot's workspace.

Exactly. This is not about the puritanical ravings of a female pilot finding porn. This is more likely about male pilots intentionally leaving porn to be discovered by the female pilot.
posted by applemeat at 9:56 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think it's harassment regardless of the gender who finds it. Why should it be acceptable for one to encounter such things unexpectedly in the midst of one's workday? It's inappropriate, unprofessional, and shouldn't be happening.

Which is what Conrad v. NASA was all about. (Possibly NSFW)
posted by bondcliff at 9:56 AM on March 30, 2009


Yep, absolutely. I recall an askme where an employee thought she saw something on her boss's screen when she came in and he minimized a window hurriedly, then she made sure to pass by later to try to catch him again, then went in her boss's office when he wasn't there and rummaged through the boss's computer to find a browsing history which included porn sites. She felt harassed by this.

You're comparing pornographic apples and oranges. (Or, if you prefer, hardcore and softcore taters.) The person in the AskMe literally went looking through someone else's workspace in order to find out if there was material there that might offend -- and actually ended up offending. The pilot(s) in this case were in their *own* workspace -- which they shared with others -- and the others had PURPOSELY left little pornographic pictures taped in obscure locations for others, male (ha ha, dude!) or female (ha ha ha ha HA LOL!) to find. Two totally different scenarios.

It sounds like these pictures were hidden in out of the way places, almost as if you would have to go looking for the stuff. Something just isn't adding up, I could be wrong but she wouldn't be the first person to manufacture evidence with an eye towards getting paid.

I'm going to leave aside the implication that the women who reported finding porn placed it in the cockpits themselves. Do you really believe that a) there isn't a subset of pilots (primarily male, and with primarily military backgrounds) who wouldn't find this sort of 'prank' funny, and b) women pilots are necessarily so shrewish as to want to hamstring their male colleagues by planting evidence against them? Do we really have to go down that road in this discussion? Can we leave this behind, out of respect? Please?

So anyway, so what if the pictures were hidden in out of the way places? It's a small space. It's a small *shared* space. I bet that a good number of us here work in cubicles. Imagine this: You have to share your cubicle with a rotating cast of hundreds. You came in to work a few months ago and needed something out of the file labeled Extra Pieces of Scotch Tape I Never Got Around to Using. It's not a file you open very often. But on that morning, you go looking for that old piece of Scotch tape, and -- holy shit -- there's a little cut-out of a spread-eagled woman. Seems someone who shared your cube at some point thought it'd be funny to leave for someone to find. And you know, maybe the person who would have found it tomorrow WOULD have found it funny. But you? It really just squicks you out. So you tell HR and they say they'll deal with it and you go queasily back to your cube hoping that you don't find more of this stuff, or worse.

And then months later, it happens again. And again. Sure, some of your cube-sharers are probably getting a huge kick out of it, but it kind of makes you feel like shit. Here you are, you've worked your ass off in a profession where women are in the minority (and where some people still think women are out of place), and you've risen through the ranks to fucking Cube Captain (or whatever the pilot/cube-monkey equivalent is.) Yay, go you. But still, after all that work, after proving yourself, after never burning down your cube (or crashing your airplane), your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes. And they cheerfully leave distasteful reminders of that hidden (don't even have the balls to come right out and say it) in *your* workspace. Oh, and then others will argue that *you* left that shit there yourself, just to prove that you really are still a vicitm after all, that being a victim, and being paid for it, is your highest ambition -- not sitting in your cube or piloting your plane or whatever the fuck.

Oh, and then this is the best part:

United argued that Stout could not have been offended by the sexually explicit photos because she once worked in a retail store that sold pornographic magazines, she sometimes sketched nudes as an artist and she had attended art shows displaying photos of nude women.

After repeatedly going to HR and not seeing any progress, you go to a lawyer. It gets as far as the settlement process. And your employer comes back at you and says, "What? She sees a naked woman in the mirror every day! It's not like she hasn't seen boobies or cooters before! I mean, she has one! I mean, she paints them all over her living room walls, right? How could she possible be offended by little pieces of porn taped in her workplace? I mean, seriously?"

Yeah.

I don't understand why some of you don't understand why we get pissed off about this shit.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:04 AM on March 30, 2009 [89 favorites]


This is more likely about male pilots intentionally leaving porn to be discovered by the female pilot.

Whoa, there. There is middle ground between the female pilot's a puritan and the male pilots are all sexist pigs.

First up: it's not appropriate, and the pilots must be able to work out that a female pilot could and would see the pics.

But there is a third scenario: that pilots taped the pics as an in-joke to other [male] pilots, i.e. like a bunch of schoolboys all vying to see who can say the word "tits" the loudest before teacher hears. If you've spent any time in all-male working environments you see this stuff day in, day out and, offensive as it may, it proactively put there to harass.

posted by MuffinMan at 10:04 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn italics!
posted by MuffinMan at 10:04 AM on March 30, 2009


One of the great difficulties of the law is that a single side is supposed to win; often, both should lose. Ladies and gentlemen, the law of conservation does not apply to stupidity. We can have enough designated idiots to sprinkle about.

For leaving pornography about in the workplace (assuming you do not work at Vivid), I find the defendant guilty of being seriously unprofessional and, worse yet, tacky. Sentence: ten years as a private pilot, flying a Cessna for Jack Thompson and various antiporn televangelists. No post-flight beers with "the boys."

For developing a "severe condition" after finding said pornography, leaving one supposedly incapable of working, I find the plaintiff guilty of being aggressively thin-skinned and, unfortunately, grasping. Sentence: one Valium per week, four years as a personal assistant to a famous porn star.
posted by adipocere at 10:06 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Jesus. Has porn become so normalized in some eyes that women are expected to just be good sports about confronting it in their workplaces?

I think delmoi's point was more along the lines of questioning whether or not it should be illegal, rather than whether or not it should be against company policy. It's not a binary issue where either everyone is just expected to deal with it or everyone should quit and sue for damages, there's a whole range of options in between.

In my opinion in this particular case the female pilot basically ran into a brick wall with the internal policy (which is not unusual in these kinds of cases) so escalating it to a lawsuit was basically her only option. If the courts weren't there to fall back on in these sorts of situations, there wouldn't be as much pressure on employers to maintain a positive work environment for everyone, which I think would be a bad thing.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:09 AM on March 30, 2009


I don't understand how just discovering a porno mag could possibly be harassment

According to the article, the judge ruled (I am assuming in the order denying the defendant's motion for summary judgment, which is generally when the defendant reaches for their checkbook) that "it would be 'highly unlikely' that a jury wouldn't find that the pornography made for a hostile work environment." A hostile work environment exists "when an employee is subjected to comments of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials, or unwelcome physical contact as a regular part of the work environment." So it is not that she once saw a porno mag. It is that she found hidden porn in her workplace 20 times in two years. The question becomes is that an offensive sexual material, and I think a reasonable person could consider it so, in the context of a workplace environment. It is not that in the workplace people should be free from anything they find offensive, it is that a person should not be confronted with things of a sexual nature which they find offensive on a regular basis after they have informed their employer that they find them offensive. And the employer's response, when an employee notifies their employer of the fact that they are being subjected to offensive materials, which is often the key issue in a suit of this kind, and which the defendant here appears to have really dropped the ball on. The Supreme Court has recognized a valuable affirmative defense for employers (the Farragher/ Ellerth defense), holding that, in the absence of a tangible employment loss (for example, discharge, demotion, or denial of promotion) for which there is strict liability, an employer can defend by proving that: • The employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexual harassment; and • The plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise. So, had this plaintiff reported to the defendant that she was finding hidden porn and had the defendant then taken effective action to correct it, that would have been the end of the issue in all likelihood. The article also mentions that the defendant reprimanded the plaintiff only after she had complained and that, before that, she had no performance issues or problems with her supervisors. This is a huge red flag with courts, because part of the protections against sexual harassment protect against retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. So, all in all, (based solely on reading this article and with no knowledge of the details of this case) this defendant made a lot of mistakes and it appears that they were right to settle this.
posted by ND¢ at 10:09 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Someone was trying to harass and intimidate the pilot by leaving porn in the cockpit for her to find it, or, in another scenario, management did not do enough to prevent ground crew from leaving porn in the cockpit.

Either way, pornography has no place in the workplace.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on March 30, 2009


There definitely should be some decorum. Certain materials should stay out of the 'office' so-to-speak. I don't want sexual material laying about at work where I could run into it, even though I purposely run into it at home fairly often. I'm not sure what I'd have done if I were in her situation, but it certainly doesn't seem like she blew one incident out of proportion. I'm a little unsure about the "severe condition" but not knowing what on earth that really means I won't assume she was lying although that is of course a possibility.
posted by Green With You at 10:16 AM on March 30, 2009


Wanna see a snake-- on a plane?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:22 AM on March 30, 2009


Thanks for the legal rationale to go along with the obvious moral rationale, ND¢.
posted by Mister_A at 10:22 AM on March 30, 2009


mudpuppie: "Here you are, you've worked your ass off in a profession where women are in the minority (and where some people still think women are out of place), and you've risen through the ranks... But still, after all that work, after proving yourself... your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes. And they cheerfully leave distasteful reminders of that hidden (don't even have the balls to come right out and say it) in *your* workspace."

I recommend this passage to those inclined to dismiss Stout as some kind of humorless anti-sex harpy.

The source of her complaint is not that male pilots like looking at porn. It's that they are demeaning their co-workers and the company doesn't give a shit. The porn was just a means to that end.

If this was about enjoying porn, the male pilots could go into the rest room and whack themselves into the Mile High Club. This was about an attempt to reduce a female who has rivaled their professional accomplishments to an orifice.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:26 AM on March 30, 2009 [12 favorites]


I think the entire discussion is hinging far too much on the notion of "pornography." Especially because it's being assumed that porn is somehow enjoyed by all male pilots, and automatically loathsome to female pilots.

Let's say that the pilots were leaving boogers behind as a practical joke. Also inappropriate for the workplace, and certainly a bit gross. Fully within rights to complain to management about this ongoing booger problem, and even to escalate to a lawsuit when management failed to respond.

That being said, I think her case would be substantially weakened if it was shown that she used boogers as a medium in her art on the side, and had an active interest in booger art on the side. The notion of severe conditions and mental trauma just seems way, way over-the-top. If it was boogers, you'd learn to pack a wetnap or two and shrug at how gross your fellow pilots are. In the case of porn, remove the porn and put it in the bin. Flag it and move on.
posted by explosion at 10:31 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because nudity equals pornography

I know a lot of artists in the "art nude" world, and I don't think I've found any two who agree where this line supposedly is. To me, if it can turn you on, it's porn, and many many artistic nudes fit that standard -- while also displaying artistic intent beyond simply arousal. At the very least, this is an endless debate within the community -- and the wider public generally doesn't make much of a distinction (except that I think to a lot of people if it's in a museum it's art, if its in a magazine or on a webpage its porn --- essentially they rely on others to make this distinction for them).

Clearly under current law this woman would have a case, which is why they settled. I do think that the law is wayy too strict, and relies on the presumption that most people (and especially women) find pornography offensive. In actuality, this has more to do with geography and cultural associations than gender -- most of the women I know have no issues with and often appreciate porn, and I've lived many places where, publically at least, most men are offended by porn (although I'm skeptical).
posted by wildcrdj at 10:34 AM on March 30, 2009


No where was it stated that she developed a severe mental condition because of the harassment. Why have people assumed this is the case? Because she's a woman "bitching"?

Because some people here seem to be unable or unwilling to put themselves in this woman's shoes, I've got a scenario for you.

Say there's an African-American pilot, who keeps finding black-faced caricatures pasted around the cockpit. Following procedure, and to create a 3rd party witness, he files it in the flight log and with the maintenance crew. He files a complaint with HR and supervisors. After 20 instances he's "red-flagged" considered a bad employee, and no actions have been taken to stop the harassment. Unrelated, he comes down with a sports injury, and doesn't want to fly anymore. He talks to a lawyer, and starts a suit. The defense lawyers try to minimize the impact these caricatures would have had on him by saying that he saw a show of the work of Robert Colescott, and owned a print of his George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, and so, could not have possibly been offended by the images he found.

Yep, he shouldn't have been such a bitch about it. Jeeze. He's probably just afraid of sex.
posted by fontophilic at 10:37 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Muffinman: But there is a third scenario: that pilots taped the pics as an in-joke to other [male] pilots [...] If you've spent any time in all-male working environments you see this stuff day in, day out [..]

Actually, Muffinman, I do work in an extremely "male" profession (patent law field). And, actually, I don't see this stuff, ever. (Now which one of us is the "all men are pigs" sexist?)
posted by applemeat at 10:41 AM on March 30, 2009


That being said, I think her case would be substantially weakened if it was shown that she used boogers as a medium in her art on the side, and had an active interest in booger art on the side. The notion of severe conditions and mental trauma just seems way, way over-the-top. If it was boogers, you'd learn to pack a wetnap or two and shrug at how gross your fellow pilots are. In the case of porn, remove the porn and put it in the bin. Flag it and move on.

If in my workplace an offensive image is constantly injected into my workspace by my coworkers, it's not my job or my duty to 'flag it and move on', it's not my job or my duty to be a good sport, or to "shrug at how gross" they are. It's my employer's duty to stop the assholes from putting it there in the first place. Why is anyone considering it incumbent on her to tolerate behaviour that we all acknowledge is inappropriate?

Even if she had used boogers in her artwork, it makes no difference to whether or not boogers are appropriately placed in the cockpit of an aircraft. Does a doctor forfeit all right to complain about spots of blood hidden in her office by her pranky coworkers because she deals with it in surgery?
posted by fatbird at 10:52 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Amazing how someone trained (and, allegedly, ready) to handle unforeseen midair events like engine flameouts, cockpit sieges, etc couldn't handle pictures of naked people.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:53 AM on March 30, 2009


One thing overlooked is that somewhere there's some prick snickering not only about causing someone to have a "severe condition" but also sticking "the man" with a lawsuit settlement.
posted by digsrus at 10:53 AM on March 30, 2009


mudpuppie, will you marry me? It's, like, legal here in Canada and everything. Srsly.
posted by jokeefe at 10:54 AM on March 30, 2009


Amazing how someone trained (and, allegedly, ready) to handle unforeseen midair events like engine flameouts, cockpit sieges, etc ....

would think it's funny to hide pictures of boobies in a an ashtray. Repeatedly.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 10:57 AM on March 30, 2009 [14 favorites]


Amazing how someone trained (and, allegedly, ready) to handle unforeseen midair events like engine flameouts, cockpit sieges, etc couldn't handle pictures of naked people.

Oh, Jesus Christ. If you think it's about "couldn't handle," you have no business even participating in the discussion. (Unless someone with more patience than I have wants to spell it out for you.)

There's a thread about board games several doors down.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:59 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oy, I hope some of you are just joking around here... gottabefunky, are you serious with that? The engine doesn't conk out or catch fire because it resents the pilot's "intrusion" into a traditionally male-dominated field. The engine doesn't go out of its way to make the pilot feel bad, to reduce her, with all her skill and training, to a life-support system for her reproductive anatomy. The engine doesn't recruit other engines to torment her with deliberately insulting imagery.
posted by Mister_A at 11:00 AM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


KokuRyu: Someone was trying to harass and intimidate the pilot
Possibly, but I don't know how you can claim that as a fact. As pointed out above, leaving hidden images in the cockpit as a prank has a long history with pilots. If you can show that the pilots knew she was on the next shift and that they didn't leave photos for other pilots, I'll agree with you. Alternately, if the person(s) who left the images left it regardless of who the next flight crew was, or if it was placed 1+ shifts ago but not discovered, your statement is completely false.

I think most posters here can agree that leaving pornographic pictures around the workplace is wrong, but labeling it sexual harassment seems a bit over the top.

On a final note, I wonder how the unions play into this. One on hand, I'd expect them to back a lawsuit by a pilot for harassment. On the other hand, I can possibly see the unions helping to prevent any actual discipline being handed out for leaving the images, which would hinder the airlines ability to prevent it.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:01 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Everyone making mocking comments about the plaintiff needing medical help should shut the fuck up. These threads are always bullshit to begin with, given that the very premise is the case was settled, immediately meaning we do not have the full details of the story and never fucking will. But bullshit, baseless legal diagnosis based on a thing you heard a guy just tell you pales in comparison to making medical diagnosis in the same context.

Jesus Christ, you assholes. People have emotional issues over losing their job. They have emotional issues over it not being their fault. Granted I'm a guy, but I think I might have heard once or twice that being victimized and demeaned on a sexual basis is somewhat upsetting to a lot of women. She's "thin-skinned?" Piss off.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:05 AM on March 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


This happened to me once. It was late in the day on April 1st and I had hidden the mouse roller balls and saran wrapped the toilets and replaced the chef's desk drawers upside down (very satisfying) the night before. The car I was supposed to use had many inappropriate pictures inside. And duck fat under the door handle. It was certainly harassment. That I had contracted for by my own actions. In a reoccurring situation where I had not instigated anything I would feel attacked.
posted by pointilist at 11:06 AM on March 30, 2009


Amazing how someone trained (and, allegedly, ready) to handle unforeseen midair events like engine flameouts, cockpit sieges, etc couldn't handle pictures of naked people.

Right, because there's no difference whatsoever between training to handle emergency situations and following proper HR procedures for addressing a hostile workspace. If you can land the plane with the engines on fire, there's no reason you can't handle it with some titties taped to the flight stick.
posted by fatbird at 11:07 AM on March 30, 2009


couldn't handle pictures of naked people.

It sounds like she handled it perfectly appropriately. She went to HR and asked them to correct the situation. If a kid is kicking your seat during a movie are you unable to handle it if you ask him to stop. No, you are reacting exactly as you should. You shouldn't have to put up with your seat being kicked throughout a movie and the law of the United States says that no one, male or female, has to put up with:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . . when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

For anyone that thinks that women should just learn to deal with porn being hidden IN THEIR WORKPLACE, you lost that battle in 1964, so I think it may be time to give that one up.
posted by ND¢ at 11:09 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Being on this website can feel like babysitting a bunch of 14 year old boys sometimes.
posted by ND¢ at 11:12 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think most posters here can agree that leaving pornographic pictures around the workplace is wrong, but labeling it sexual harassment seems a bit over the top.

It's sexual harassment because it creates a hostile work environment. ND¢ was kind enough to give a definition and a reference above. The judge in the case also ruled "in November that it would be 'highly unlikely' that a jury wouldn't find that the pornography made for a hostile work environment — one of the findings necessary to prove a claim of sexual harassment."

I don't know what about this is unclear or confusing.
posted by gladly at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2009


I still hate the fact that this is called sexual harassment, but maybe female pilots are targeted, and it's not just a tradition they're exposed to (which would still be wrong, but seems different than harassment to me). Overall, the verdict is probably the correct one. The dollar figure isn't absurdly high, but it's high enough to ensure changes occur at the airline. I would probably have rewarded less, but given the judge's recommendation, the jury doesn't seem to be at fault.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2009


For those in the cheap seats:

Using porn as a whacking tool: Just Fine.

Using porn to embarrass and humiliate: Not Fine In The Least.

Nobody here, or in the lawsuit, is suggesting otherwise. This woman wasn't a priggish bluenose who got all miffed when she found a copy of Swank some other pilot had accidentally left under the seat. She was a victim of a campaign to humiliate her just because she's a girl. Which has the tendency to create mental health issues.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


victimized and demeaned on a sexual basis is somewhat upsetting to a lot of women.

This keeps getting trotted out, and it's just not true. There was pornography, yes, but why is it being assumed that pornography is automatically offensive only to women? That it is demeaning at all? That she was the intended target of the pornographic images in the first place, rather than a bystander who didn't appreciate the (offensive) culture?

The company definitely dropped the ball, but the assumption that porn is "gross" and "demeaning to women" is kind of unwarranted here. The most we can objectively say is that we do not like it, and that it is not appropriate for the workplace environment.
posted by explosion at 11:16 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


ShadowCrash: "leaving hidden images in the cockpit as a prank has a long history with pilots"

This sounds a lot like "boys will be boys".

If these pilots are mature enough to be entrusted with the lives of hundreds of people, they're mature enough to adapt this "tradition" to the arrival of women in the cockpit.

If they protest that, say, LOLcats aren't as "amusing" a hidden picture as open-beaver shots, I think it's time to admit that sexual harassment is their objective.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:17 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


She was a victim of a campaign to humiliate her just because she's a girl.
Again, we don't have enough information to say what the motive was behind leaving the pictures. The main fault of the airlines were not doing enough to stop the problem in the future (they sent one vaguely worded email) and for labeling her a abrasive employee after she complained. If they changed those two, they would have had a much better chance of not losing this lawsuit.

Also, the airline admitted they don't review the flight logs? Shouldn't this be done? Anything else in flight logs that we should be worried are not reviewed (maintenance issues, strange engine sounds?)?
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:20 AM on March 30, 2009


Say there's an African-American pilot, who keeps finding black-faced caricatures pasted around the cockpit. Following procedure, and to create a 3rd party witness, he files it in the flight log and with the maintenance crew.

Also, with regard to this sort of analogy: black-face is inherently racist. Porn is not inherently sexist.

I'm still firmly in the camp that the company completely dropped the ball, but I will continue to maintain that the presence of porn is merely professionally inappropriate, and not inherently sexist.
posted by explosion at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


mudpuppie wrote: But still, after all that work, after proving yourself... your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes

Ah yes, I look at porn, so it stands to reason that I think women must just be there only for their fuck-holes.

This attitude is every bit as ridiculous as the boyzone attitude our female posters often get annoyed about.

It seems to me that in the case at hand, nobody is particularly in the right. The female pilot could have acted like a grownup and ignored the pornography. The folks hiding the porn for each other to find (it's unlikely it was about the female pilot at all) could have acted like grownups and not done it.
posted by wierdo at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


MikeMc: Stout logged each instance in the flight log and had maintenance workers take the photos down, according to court filings.

Had to have maintenance workers take the photos down? Afraid of blood borne pathogens or something?


I'd hate to go out on a limb here, but I will: I'd expect that cleaning of that nature is required by union rules to be done by the maintenance workers, not by the pilots. If she did, in fact, clean it herself, she might have been in violation of those union rules and gotten in trouble. The rules the airline unions deal with are frequently byzantine and confusing, so going with the easy one - if it has to be cleaned, ask one of the maintenance people to do it - is probably the safest way to go.
posted by mephron at 11:24 AM on March 30, 2009


It's not a "boys will be boys" defense.
Do you think the male pilots were finding the porn and getting turned on? I don't. Most likely, they were leaving images to gross out who ever found it. I think it's the equivalent of an someone trying to get someone to click on a link for a goatse image on a public workstation, but without knowing who the someone would be. Obviously inappropriate, but it doesn't necessarily mean that a specific female employee was targeted for harassment.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:24 AM on March 30, 2009


If these pilots are mature enough to be entrusted with the lives of hundreds of people, they're mature enough to adapt this "tradition" to the arrival of women in the cockpit.

And the sun is a giant lollipop and the clouds are made of cotton candy!

No, seriously, I agree in principle. But the latter does not necessarily follow the former. Logic dictates that it should, but our culture doesn't require it. Individual maturity isn't regulated by logic -- especially in a culture that sometimes rewards such immaturity, or at least condones it. (And condemns those who try to end it -- or simply point it out -- out as humorless, or priggish, or litigious, or any other of those adjectives on the list.)
posted by mudpuppie at 11:25 AM on March 30, 2009


Porn is not inherently sexist.

Perhaps not, for some absurdly strict definition, but in practice, pretty much all porn is sexist to women. I'm sure you can find counterexamples, but let's not pretend that the vast majority of porn isn't tilted towards a particular audience and with a particular aesthetic that's at least problematic for women.
posted by fatbird at 11:26 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


The female pilot could have acted like a grownup and ignored the pornography.

Why is ignoring it the grownup option? If you're failing to be a grownup about something, why isn't you not doing that thing all the 'grownupness' that's required?
posted by fatbird at 11:28 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


The company I work for had a mandatory Workplace Harassment meeting last week, so I am up-to-date on these issues. All of you who are saying "no big deal" to the pron in the cockpit are in for a very rude awakening if you live in the US and try to do anything like that at work. It is so far from being OK that if you mentioned that you planned to leave some pictures of naked women lying around the office, your boss would probably send you immediately to HR, who would schedule sensitivity training. The reason they'd do that is lawsuits like this one. Employers do not want to wind up paying millions in damages because some insensitive bonehead is not aware of the realities of the current workplace.

You can argue that it's overboard and wrong, but if you wind up making that argument in court, you're probably going to walk out much, much poorer.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obviously inappropriate, but it doesn't necessarily mean that a specific female employee was targeted for harassment.

Which is why she filed suit against United for not maintaining a harassment free workplace, rather than suing individual pilots who may have left these pictures. These threads are tiresome because people don't read the details and just let their reactions run (not accusing the person who I quoted there, it was just convenient).
posted by Burhanistan at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


mudpuppie wrote: But still, after all that work, after proving yourself... your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes
Ah yes, I look at porn, so it stands to reason that I think women must just be there only for their fuck-holes.

This attitude is every bit as ridiculous as the boyzone attitude our female posters often get annoyed about.
posted by wierdo at 11:22 AM on March 30 [+] [!]


I tried very hard in my comment to indicate that I was referring to a specific subset of those colleagues. I think I got that point across, and I think you're ignoring that in order to trot out the knee-jerk argument that I was trying to head off. So, to appease you, I'll specify that I meant "[some of] your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes."

If you go back and reread what I said, I think you'll see that that's what I was getting at. I did not play the "all men ESPECIALLY YOU WIERDO are sexist pigs card," so we can end this now, thanks.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2009


You're comparing pornographic apples and oranges. [...] Two totally different scenarios.

Mmh. Thanks for the lecture. I guess you missed the quote I was replying to, which was italicized, along with the end of my reply, which said, literally, "I'm not saying porn mags in a shared office space is the same at all".

If you're going to upbraid me for comparing apples and oranges, how about you do me the favor of reading my reply in full and make sure I don't actually agree with you, kay? Thanks.
posted by splice at 11:32 AM on March 30, 2009


The female pilot could have acted like a grownup and ignored the pornography.

Riiight. Because taping beaver shots around the cockpit is the grown-up thing to do.

WTF is wrong with people on this thread today?
posted by applemeat at 11:32 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


we don't have enough information to say what the motive was behind leaving the pictures.

Good point. But there's still an unwelcoming environment at play.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:34 AM on March 30, 2009


I don't know this pilot, but I do know female pilots who have reported porn in the cockpit. Being friends of mine, these aren't shrinking puritanical violets. What they reported was very hardcore images (not Playboy-ish) "hidden" in places that you would encounter when operating an airplane but not in plain (pardon the pun) sight to anyone just entering the cockpit to look around.
They did say it was there to provoke a reaction in many cases.
posted by pointystick at 11:44 AM on March 30, 2009


I think my comment above was poorly worded and taken as such. My apologies. It was not meant to excuse the male pilots' actions at all. Those sucked. Punish them, please. Idiots.

I just find it interesting, the contrast between the almost inconceivable (to us civilians) responsibilities these pilots are trained to handle in the blink of an eye...and then something like this.

I mean, these people can land a jumbo jet on water after losing both engines to fucking birds, and we're talking about career trajectories being altered because of pictures of naked people.

If anything, it's a sad reflection of the twisted prudishness at the heart of our culture. Both that someone thought it would be funny to do something so asinine, and that someone was so offended by it that it came to this.

Is it possible to point that out without sounding like you're justifying what happened? Because I'm not. Just fascinated by the incongruity: plane crashes (and prevention thereof) <> porn.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:47 AM on March 30, 2009


So when the starboard engine is aflame, and the pilots are rooting through their manuals to find out what Boeing says about that, they're likely to come across Miss September pasted across the page? WTF. I have a sense of humor stalled at the Beavis-and-Butthead level and even I can recognize that is stupid and not funny.

Is this supposed to be similar to the thespian jokes of hiding unmentionable things inside of props which need to be opened on stage? At least there the worst that can happen is a botched line...and even then it's pretty lame.

Add to that the added malevolence of digging at your female colleagues who have dared to sully your sacred man's world by becoming pilots, well, fuck United and the male crew who participated in this. I'll give them a bit of leeway for the first incident, boys being boys, but from that point it was harassment.
posted by maxwelton at 11:48 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I mean, these people can land a jumbo jet on water after losing both engines to fucking birds, and we're talking about career trajectories being altered because of pictures of naked people.

We're also talking about a group of thousands of people, and naturally there is going to be a broader spectrum of character traits in play than that simplified duality.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:51 AM on March 30, 2009


These threads are tiresome because people don't read the details and just let their reactions run (not accusing the person who I quoted there, it was just convenient).
posted by Burhanistan


I know you said you weren't accusing me, but I think you missed my point. I read the articles and understand the details. No where in the links does it state the images were left to specifically harass the female pilot or all female pilots in general. Yet plenty of posters felt they could infer the motivation of the person(s) who left the images, and the did in fact specifically target Stout for harassment. The links don't even specifically state what the images were, just the fact that they were pornographic.

To me, if the flight crew left grape jelly on the controls to trick the next pilot into getting their hands messy, it would be the exact same thing. If you can show they left the grape jelly to target a specific pilot, had knowledge of who the pilot was, and only targeted this pilot (or a small subset of all pilots), I'd say it was harassment. If they left grape jelly on the controls to annoy any and every pilot, I'd say its a stupid prank. An inappropriate prank. A prank that the airline should try and prevent and guilty parties should be disciplined for, but not harassment.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:05 PM on March 30, 2009


Porn is not inherently sexist.

Not all eggs are rotten either, but that dosen't mean people want them broken on their desk at work every morning. I like porn, too, but come on, there's a time and place for everything. Not everything that isn't shock-jock crude is PC-prissy, there's a normal human middle ground, am I right?
posted by jonmc at 12:09 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is the problem that people think the message here is "porn = bad"? Cause I would hate for that to be the snag preventing us reaching some level of understanding. Let me clear this up:

porn used in the privacy of one's home = completely morally neutral (as far as I'm concerned at least)

porn taken to work and hidden = you must admit we're veering into creep territory here right? I mean, why are you bringing porn to work? Come on dude.

porn taken to work and hidden in a place that you are sure a female coworker, working in a male-dominated field, will find it, in an attempt to embarrass or humiliate said coworker = morally wrong

You see how this works? There is a spectrum here. You don't have to choose between "porn is bad" and "that lady just needs to deal with it." Embrace the complexity.
posted by ND¢ at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


career trajectories being altered because of pictures of naked people...

It's not the naked people, it's the obvious and repeated sexual harassment, and the dismissive attitude taken by the company, that altered her career trajectory. Flight crews were not leaving Degas nudes lying around.
posted by Mister_A at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


My first question would be why are pilots hiding pornography in the cockpit in the first place? Are they browsing at it during long, boring flights while spanking the monkey? And do I want to be one of their passengers? If they keep it on hand to read later in their hotel room during layovers, then why not pack it in their carry-on? The only other plausible scenario is to let the female pilots or flight attendants "accidentally" find it and be vastly amused at their embarrassment. Or, better yet, if they don't shriek and run away but just giggle coyly, that means that they got a little thrilly out of it and they really *want* you.

My very first job was as a telex operator for a prestigious Fortune 500 company. I was 16 years old and had gotten the job through our school's co-op program. Being so young made me the target of "jokes" (it wasn't called sexual harrassment at that time) by supposedly mature adult males with advanced college degrees. These white collar execs would regularly leave nudie pictures in my "In" box. One day I opened my desk drawer to find a hotel front desk-type bell in the shape of a female breast. Another time one of the many vice presidents walked into the room when I was sending a Telex wearing a novelty pair of Groucho glasses, but instead of a nose it had a penis in the center. When I compalined to my boss, his only comment was that "this isn't high school, this is business, the real world." It was a privately held company, they could do what they wanted, and you either sucked it up or quit.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is just about the perfect topic for the internet... It lets people whinge on about porn, legal issues and medical issues.

For the record I side with the lady in the issue. The other pilots may or may not have been targeting her, but they where certainly guilty of contaminating the workspace with material that many people would find objectionable in that setting, and that some may find objectionable full stop. And it is NOT UNREASONABLE to think that pornography is upsetting to some. Indeed, to just jump in a brand her as priggish or sexphobic says more about the idiotic thought process going on in the commentator's head then anything to do with the case.

For those who jump to the bottom without reading anything else, let me reiterate. This was not a one or two time occurrence, this meats the legal definition of harassment, this was attempted to be resolved though company channels first... only after all of this did it go to court.

The dismissive and frankly stupid comments that occur from near the very start of this thread really lowered my opinions of several people here.
posted by edgeways at 12:11 PM on March 30, 2009


ShadowCrash: ah, but that is "harassment" as it's been defined by the law. Pranks, jokes, et al fall in the general header of "harassment". I think people tend to have a distorted view of what harassment is from 80s TV shows and movies like "Disclosure".

Also, Stout is the one who filed the suit. It doesn't matter, according to the law, who left those pictures and whether or not they were posted with her specifically in mind. In this case the law covers the company's responsibility to control the situation, not intent of individuals.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:12 PM on March 30, 2009


ShadowCrash, if someone was leaving mysterious fluids or colloidal suspensions or what have you on control surfaces, I would recommend immediate dismissal and criminal prosecution.
posted by Mister_A at 12:12 PM on March 30, 2009


I know, by the letter of the US laws that govern this case, its technically harassment. It just seems to be the wrong word to use for things like this.

Mister A: criminal prosecution? Really? If it was tradition to try and trick people into touching grape jelly? I'd agree with dismissal if it wasn't stopped and you could determine exactly who did it, but criminal prosecution?

In the case at hand, I'm not sure exactly what the airline could have done. Surely they could have done more, but I'm not sure if anyone would have ever been fired. Pilots are protected by unions, and short of someone coming out and fingering the person responsible, there's very little chance the union would let you discipline the entire flight crew or crews.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:19 PM on March 30, 2009


"You can argue that it's overboard and wrong, but if you wind up making that argument in court, you're probably going to walk out much, much poorer."
I can't favorite this comment of Kirth's hard enough. My company's sexual harassment training (madatory for all) would have this squarely in the "harassment" category.

In fact, at several jobs I have had, training has stated that if you see inappropriate behavior you are supposed to report it even if you yourself are not the intended recipient.
posted by pointystick at 12:20 PM on March 30, 2009


I know, by the letter of the US laws that govern this case, its technically harassment. It just seems to be the wrong word to use for things like this.

We're talking about agreed upon legal terms, not about what should or shouldn't seem to be the wrong word to use.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:21 PM on March 30, 2009


There's not enough information in the links for me to make any kind of judgement about this case, but if I had found myself in her situation I would have taken the offending material and replaced it with some hairy bear porn or something similar. No need to involve the higher-ups, much less the justice system; just learn to use the tools of your opponents, which might cause a couple of them to stop and think about the implications of their boorish behavior.

I'm not a woman, though, so my insight into that whole issue is limited.
posted by metagnathous at 12:31 PM on March 30, 2009


if I had found myself in her situation I would have taken the offending material and replaced it with some hairy bear porn or something similar. No need to involve the higher-ups, much less the justice system; just learn to use the tools of your opponents, which might cause a couple of them to stop and think about the implications of their boorish behavior

Really? That sounds like that would only escalate the situation to me. If someone pranks you, and you want the pranking to stop, pranking them back usually just leads to more elaborate pranks coming back at you. Responding in kind with similar behavior doesn't negate the original behavior, it validates it.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:39 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


People keep arguing about the intentions of those who placed the pron. Intent is irrelevant. Whether you or Larry Flynt would be offended is irrelevant. Whether the jokers knew who the next crew would be is irrelevant. The fact that the airline did nothing to prevent repetition of the woman's finding pron in her workspace after she complained about it made it a hostile workplace. Once the judge made that finding, the airline knew they'd lose at trial, so they settled.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:40 PM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


Bullshit like this is exactly why we have sexual harassment laws. You don't get to decide, in the employment context, when someone else should just loosen up and learn to take a joke. Because when you are not at work, other people can just decide you are an asshole and are perfectly free to have nothing to do with you. When they work with or for you, they can't do that. A person's job is an incredibly important part of their life. It is how they pay the mortgage and feed their kids. You don't get to fuck around with that. You want to play your funny little jokes with your penis masks and porn pictures? Do it on your own time. When you are at work, we as a society have decided that shit like that does not fly.
posted by ND¢ at 12:41 PM on March 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


Burhanistan, I concede your point (I've already said I think the judgement was fair), it's technically harassment. But technically, public urination can result in a person be classified as a sex offender. Even though legally it's correct, I don't agree. It just seems certain words should be reserved for certain situations, but that's my opinion and not legal fact.

The main issue I had was with people stating that she was targeted directly by male pilots. We don't know what the motivation was, that's really the only point I was trying to get across. Similarly, guessing what Stout's motivation was is impossible and classifying her as weak or simply looking for a cash settlement is wrong.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:43 PM on March 30, 2009


mudpuppie wrote: I think I got that point across, and I think you're ignoring that in order to trot out the knee-jerk argument that I was trying to head off....I'll specify that I meant "[some of] your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes."

At no time did I even insinuate you were talking specifically about me or any of the posters here. What I did say was that your statement does not follow from men looking at, posting, or placing pornography.

applemeat wrote: Riiight. Because taping beaver shots around the cockpit is the grown-up thing to do.

WTF is wrong with people on this thread today?


I see you didn't bother to read my post, which specifically pointed out that neither group were being grown up about it.

(I quote myself)

wierdo wrote: The female pilot could have acted like a grownup and ignored the pornography. The folks hiding the porn for each other to find (it's unlikely it was about the female pilot at all) could have acted like grownups and not done it.

Next time please read the entire post before going all righteously indignant on me. Thanks!
posted by wierdo at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2009


if I had found myself in her situation I would have taken the offending material and replaced it with some hairy bear porn or something similar.

metagnathous, I'd agree with you to the extent that some people in the "she's being irrational" camp on this thread might have a different reaction if a heterosexual male employee (i.e. one working in a career where straight men were the minority) were being repeatedly and intentionally subjected to hardcore gay porn—in places where no porn should be-- by his gay male co-workers.
posted by applemeat at 12:47 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kirth Gerson, intent is completely relevant. Maybe not in determining if the actions were right or wrong, but definitely in determining how wrong and in what way.

If I target you, and only you, for harassment/pranks because I want you to quite or intimidate you, I'm creating an entirely different hostile work place than if I leave some items around that you find offensive. If I'm specifically harassing you, and the company doesn't do anything, I expect the resulting settlement to be much higher than what was awarded in this case.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:52 PM on March 30, 2009


quit, not quite.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2009


ShadowCrash, not necessarily. And this is why harassment laws don't really cover intent as it's such an ethereal thing to capture in these cases.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:55 PM on March 30, 2009


Next time please read the entire post before going all righteously indignant on me. Thanks!

Point taken, weirdo. You did state that the pilots' actions were wrong. But I still think your statement "the female pilot could have acted like a grownup and ignored the pornography" was jaw-droppingly ignorant.
posted by applemeat at 12:55 PM on March 30, 2009


applemeat: the second link states the jury deducted $120,000 because Stout could have handled things differently.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:57 PM on March 30, 2009


metagnathous, I'd agree with you to the extent that some people in the "she's being irrational" camp on this thread might have a different reaction if a heterosexual male employee (i.e. one working in a career where straight men were the minority) were being repeatedly and intentionally subjected to hardcore gay porn—in places where no porn should be-- by his gay male co-workers.

Good point, applemeat. Maybe the ultimate lesson should simply be 'leave your damn porn at home,' gay, straight or whatever. A higher level of discretion on the part of the guys who left that stuff around would have gone a long way toward keeping it all from becoming a legal case, assuming that the information presented is accurate.
posted by metagnathous at 1:00 PM on March 30, 2009


applemeat wrote: Point taken, weirdo. You did state that the pilots' actions were wrong. But I still think your statement "the female pilot could have acted like a grownup and ignored the pornography" was jaw-droppingly ignorant.

Ignorant, I suppose, of the reality of life these days, sure, but this is something that any adult should be perfectly capable of just ignoring. As well as something any adult shouldn't be doing.

Oriole Adams wrote: One day I opened my desk drawer to find a hotel front desk-type bell in the shape of a female breast. Another time one of the many vice presidents walked into the room when I was sending a Telex wearing a novelty pair of Groucho glasses, but instead of a nose it had a penis in the center.

This is what can't be ignored and needs to be dealt with. That shit is why we have sexual harassment laws.
posted by wierdo at 1:03 PM on March 30, 2009


Shadowcrash, those two articles are about two different lawsuits, albeit with similar facts. Stout's suit resulted in a settlement, not a decision rendered by a jury, which is why the FPP says "United Airlines has settled a federal sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by a former pilot . . ." and why the link text is "United Airlines settles suit over hidden porn".
posted by ND¢ at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2009


Oh, and just to be clear, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to me if it were some male filing a lawsuit about finding gay male porn. If you think something is unpleasant to look at, don't look at it.

If someone is in front of you causing problems, that's an entirely different story.
posted by wierdo at 1:05 PM on March 30, 2009


jokeefe: Also, the comments in this thread are depressing... how hard is it to understand that leaving porn around in a cockpit for a female pilot to find is clearly harassment?

I agree, it is depressing. Like the flasher in the raincoat, it is a hostile action whose intent is to provoke a reaction. In fact, it is the reaction of disgust that provides the reward to the perpetrator. It is hard to believe that today there are still people who would defend such behavior in the workplace. Like the people who declare that racism is over since we have a black president, we have people who declare that sexism is over at work. In both cases we still have a long, long way to go.
posted by JackFlash at 1:08 PM on March 30, 2009


If I'm specifically harassing you, and the company doesn't do anything, I expect the resulting settlement to be much higher than what was awarded in this case.

There was no "award" in this case, and the details of the settlement are sealed, so I don't know what number you're talking about. Stout decided to settle with United: no jury ever heard this case. The second link is about a different case entirely, settled in 1997.

Stout's case turned on United 1) not doing anything to prevent the harassment and 2) retaliating against Stout for her complaints. The intent of the pilots taping up the pictures had no bearing on the case.
posted by gladly at 1:10 PM on March 30, 2009


Thanks ND, my mistake.
I agree that everyone has the right to go to work and not be subjected to images they find offensive. If they are presented with offensive images, and they alert management, management should make a reasonable attempt to stop/prevent it. When it happens repeatedly, the courts should get involved and require management to act appropriately. To ensure companies are punished enough to warrant changes and ensure they follow the laws going forward, the settlement needs to be large enough to cause financial pain. I think the main problem is people feel to justify these settlements, pain and suffering are exaggerated. Perhaps a better solution would be to allow the jury to award settlements to the plaintiff or a third party non-profit (or both).
posted by ShadowCrash at 1:17 PM on March 30, 2009


gladly: yes, it was a different case. But in the case of Capt. Tammy S. Blakey, there was a settlement. The point I was making was in reply to the statement that intent is irrelevant. Intent might be irrelevant in determining who is wrong, but it's very often taken into account when penalties are assessed. Taking a life is wrong, but there's a difference between murder and homicide. Destroying public property is wrong, but there's a difference between intentionally doing it and losing control of your car and taking out a street sign. Fine, I confused the two cases, but if you think intent is irrelevant in harassment cases, we're in disagreement.
posted by ShadowCrash at 1:24 PM on March 30, 2009


gladly wrote: 2) retaliating against Stout for her complaints.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the worst action on the part of anyone involved.
posted by wierdo at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


ShadowCrash, your hypothetical jelly example was silly, even for a hypothetical but do you really think it's wrist-slappin' time when people put mysterious liquids on the controls of a passenger jet? You can't imagine how that could be a problem? If it was my company, I'd fire you in a second if I caught you putting anything other than your hands on the controls of one of my motherfuckin' airplanes. It's a safety issue, and it doesn't matter who the offenders were targeting when they put the schmutz on the yoke or what have you.

Similarly, with regard to the porn in the cockpit, it's a workplace rights issue, and it doesn't matter who the offenders were targeting–they should be dismissed (if identified).

The reason I bothered to comment on your hypothetical is that the "innocuous" example you cited is really not innocuous at all–it can have consequences well beyond a little mess on the uniform. You attempted to equate the porn thing with this other "innocuous" behavior, but that other behavior is akin to sabotage. A pilot who had his cockpit tampered with in this way would be royally pissed, and would likely report the behavior, maybe ground the plane to find out what the hell else is wrong with it, and possibly seek out the offender to administer punitive actions. So maybe it's not such a bad comparison after all...
posted by Mister_A at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2009


Yeah, ShadowCrash: you're just jumping from hypothetical to hypothetical here and it's just making a bit of a mess.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:27 PM on March 30, 2009


Ignorant, I suppose, of the reality of life these days, sure, but this is something that any adult should be perfectly capable of just ignoring. As well as something any adult shouldn't be doing....

This is what can't be ignored and needs to be dealt with. That shit is why we have sexual harassment laws.


You know, don't you, that there's a difference between being capable of ignoring and willing to ignore? And that you are taking it upon yourself to dictate what should be ignored and what is, by your standards, not worth getting het up about?

Oh well. If there's one thing I can come away from this thread grateful about, it's that you aren't the one who gets to tell me what to ignore and when.

But at least we agree on one thing: This shit is why we have sexual harassment laws!
posted by mudpuppie at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was going to try to quote a couple of people and repsond to their comments with counter-arguments about this specific lawsuit, but right now all I've got is burning, incoherent rage that many people on this thread think something along the lines of "prudish and/or immature women" are the problem, and not "our inherently sexist, misogynistic, physically, emotionally, and mentally violent-towards-women society" is to blame.

And if you think I'm overstating the case, you are part of the problem.
posted by tzikeh at 1:31 PM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


ShadowCrash, like someone said up thread, the pilots themselves aren't defendants in the case. United isn't on the hook for the mindset of their asshole pilots: they're paying because they made no attempt to stop those pilots' behavior and then punished their pilot who did speak up.

If United had intervened and stopped the harassment, regardless of whether or not the intent of the pilots was to intimidate and harass Stout or if they were just participating in a juvenile tradition, United would have been in the clear. Now, if Stout's attorneys could prove that United intended to preserve this harassing tradition in order to weed out a female pilot from their ranks, then, yes, I would agree that intent should be a part of determining the outcome of the case.
posted by gladly at 1:45 PM on March 30, 2009


Sue the shit out of these assholes lady. And I hope you win.

Leave the porn at home, dickwads. If you can't wait a couple hours too jerk it then you got other problems than prudish co-workers. And if you MUST. There are these place that we hominids use as repositories for our various fluids. They are called bathrooms. And may I suggest you store your motivational images on your iPhone. Password protected. And keep it to yourselves.

Jesus H. The sexism issue aside. Seriously. People need bullshit like this explained to them?

I will wager that people who think this is okay are the same type of hygiene impaired dip shits who wear tank-tops, shorts, and open-toed shoes on airplanes. Something tells me it's a high-probability cross over audience.
posted by tkchrist at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2009


*idly wondering if the mods here leave such little surprises in the logs and other pages that the rest of us don't see. . .probably not*
posted by Danf at 1:47 PM on March 30, 2009


mudpuppie wrote: Oh well. If there's one thing I can come away from this thread grateful about, it's that you aren't the one who gets to tell me what to ignore and when.

I wouldn't presume to tell you what to ignore. That doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't have an opinion on your maturity based on what you choose to ignore or not ignore.

tzikeh wrote: many people on this thread think something along the lines of "prudish and/or immature women" are the problem

Did someone say that? IMO, the problem isn't immature women, it's immature people. But everything is always about degrading women, so I must be lying when I say that.

tkchrist wrote: Leave the porn at home, dickwads. If you can't wait a couple hours too jerk it then you got other problems than prudish co-workers. And if you MUST. There are these place that we hominids use as repositories for our various fluids. They are called bathrooms. And may I suggest you store your motivational images on your iPhone. Password protected. And keep it to yourselves.

I don't recall seeing any evidence that the purpose of this pornography is to enable getting your jollies off in the cockpit.
posted by wierdo at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2009


Yet again, I sided with the pilot. I see the issue as the company's failure to address inappropriate workplace behavior. The company was wrong, and ended up paying for it.

The reason I brought up intent is because comments like these:
"trying to harass and intimidate the pilot"
"She was a victim of a campaign to humiliate her just because she's a girl."
"victimized and demeaned on a sexual basis"
"your mostly-male coworkers still gleefully think of you, and people like you, as a series of holes"

We can't know this is fact based on the evidence provided. I think if the above were true, it's a much worse offense then leaving pornographic pictures around as a prank. Yet when I state this, I get told "intent is irrelevant". Not that it wasn't inappropriate to begin with, but that there's a huge difference between the possibilities.

The point of the jelly analogy was the same point explosion was making with the boogers. We agree it was inappropriate, but don't agree that it's obvious the intention was to sexual humiliate the female pilot. You can get hung up on the minor points, but it doesn't matter if it was in the cockpit or in the pilots lounge. You shouldn't have to deal with things like this at work, and the company should take actions to try and prevent it. But there's a world of difference between pranks pulled on the next shift, regardless of who that is, and targeting a specific individual.
posted by ShadowCrash at 2:21 PM on March 30, 2009


I do realize that everyone sees and filters things slightly differently, and that overall that's a great thing (and far better than everyone agreeing).

That said, reading this thread makes me really glad that harassment laws exist.
posted by Stunt at 2:36 PM on March 30, 2009


There is nothing that you can't sue about now it seems
posted by A189Nut at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2009


I don't recall seeing any evidence that the purpose of this pornography is to enable getting your jollies off in the cockpit.

Okay. Then it is harassment.
posted by tkchrist at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2009


Hi, I'm looking for my friend Straw Man; does anyone know where he is?

Like the people who declare that racism is over since we have a black president, we have people who declare that sexism is over at work.

Never mind, I found him.
posted by brain_drain at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2009


IMO, the problem isn't immature women, it's immature people.

Actually, the problem in this case is immature men - men who seem to take great joy in perpetuating the gross and damaging stereotype that "boys will be boys", and therefore, what do you expect when you enter a boyzone? See? Men are dogs! They can't control themselves! Even professionals are apparently doomed by their gender to act like 7th graders!

It's stupid. I've worked with men, and sometimes worked in mostly male spaces, and I've never been subjected to shit like this. Apparently I've been fortunate enough to work with adults who know how to act like it at work.
posted by rtha at 3:24 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


tkchrist wrote: Okay. Then it is harassment.

Just because they weren't using the material for masturbatory purposes doesn't mean they were intending to cause a female pilot mental anguish.

As I mentioned earlier, it's juvenile behavior no matter the intent behind it.

I think I pointed out earlier that IMO, the biggest issue here is the retaliation on the part of the airline when the female pilot complained. Everything else is people refusing to act like adults, which is all too common these days.
posted by wierdo at 3:25 PM on March 30, 2009


rtha wrote: Actually, the problem in this case is immature men - men who seem to take great joy in perpetuating the gross and damaging stereotype that "boys will be boys", and therefore, what do you expect when you enter a boyzone? See? Men are dogs! They can't control themselves! Even professionals are apparently doomed by their gender to act like 7th graders!

Indeed that is one part of the problem. What have we become when we can't expect people to ignore things which offend them, though? I consider that quite immature also, so long as it's not being forced upon you, which it wasn't as best I can tell in this case.

Either way, neither gender has a monopoly on immaturity, despite what some of our members seem to be proclaiming.

You and many others seem to think I'm excusing the behavior of the unknown male pilots. I'm not. I'm calling the behavior of both sides into question. I'm mildly amused that so many think that because I'm calling out the lady for being unable to avert her gaze I'm excusing the men's behavior. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to highlight a certain preconceived attitude that women are delicate little flowers that need to be protected from men and their dirty attitudes. Pretty paternalistic (or maternalistic, if you prefer) if you ask me.

Despite that, I still maintain that the unknown male pilots were behaving unprofessionally and deserve some punishment for that, regardless of how it may or may not have affected a coworker of either gender.
posted by wierdo at 3:32 PM on March 30, 2009


I'm mildly amused that so many think that because I'm calling out the lady for being unable to avert her gaze I'm excusing the men's behavior.

But why should she have to? I guess this is the crux of the disagreement many people are having here. I thought the way she handled it was actually very mature. She went through channels, tried to get relief that way, and when she didn't, she sued. Averting your gaze from a single, random offensive act is fine and probably a necessary part of living in the world, but when it happens over and over and over in the place where you work, why on earth should you have to avert your gaze? Why isn't it the mature thing to stand up for your right to a decent work environment?
posted by Mavri at 3:45 PM on March 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but it seems to highlight a certain preconceived attitude that women are delicate little flowers that need to be protected from men and their dirty attitudes. Pretty paternalistic (or maternalistic, if you prefer) if you ask me.

It doesn't highlight that at all, unless you think that it's something she should just put up with--i.e., the 'boys will be boys' defence. The case highlights the fact that there's behaviour in the workplace that one shouldn't have to tolerate, and that being the case, management has a duty to correct and eliminate such behaviour when it happens. Management failed, and management is now paying a large price due to the liability they created.

I don't understand how you can say in the same breath that the pilots were doing something wrong, but that she was wrong to pursue the accepted avenues for addressing it. Of course she could just tolerate it, but she shouldn't have to, and she shouldn't be looked down upon for not doing so.
posted by fatbird at 4:00 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


weirdo: I'm calling the behavior of both sides into question.
That "pox on both their houses" stuff just won't fly. One is the perpetrator and the other is the victim. Harassment is unacceptable. There is no "both sides" here.
posted by JackFlash at 4:04 PM on March 30, 2009


The case highlights the fact that there's behaviour in the workplace that one shouldn't have to tolerate

Yup. And I will bet some amount of money that there was at least one male pilot who was also offended, and felt harassed or that it was a hostile workplace. And I'll bet that he decided that a male pilot filing a complaint about porn in the cockpit wouldn't be taken seriously, and he was probably right.

I put up with, and don't sue over, all kinds of offensive shit out there in the world. I'm not filing an FCC complaint over Janet Jackson's "costume malfunction" or whatever it was (not that I cared). But if I had to come to a shared workspace where that kind of stuff and worse was on the walls or in the drawers, you bet I'd sue if management didn't correct the problem.

It's not about Whiny McLawsuit. It's about not having to put up with shit like this at work, no matter what your gender is. Christ.
posted by rtha at 4:21 PM on March 30, 2009


The pilot probably wouldn't have minded a few porno pictures in an isolated "accident", yet I believe that those kind of pictures carry a message of objectification, somehow demeaning of all females and of her by association, or maybe she found the pictures to be distracting. Anyhow, those pictures don't serve any purpose in the cockpit of an airplane, as much as a navigation aid map doesn't serve any purpose in a strip club.

Yet it seems that those pictures weren't just an accident, as it seems she had found them time and again. As pornographic pictures aren't a standard feature of any cockpit, as they don't serve any function in a plane, one could conclude that she was either deliberatedly harrassed by some who found out she was disturbed by those pictures, or that she just stepped into a culture that doesn't mind porno being displayed frequently.

I'd like to extend this to other depictions or symbols, who may be found offensive by somebody. For instance, take the christian cross, or maybe the swastika (as associated to nazism). The cross resembles a man being tortured, unless of course you are among the few who don't considered being nailed alive on a board as torture (which makes me wonder why you wouldn't allow anybody to do that to you).

Now imagine having to work day in day out in a room in which a cross has been hanged to a wall, maybe because your coworker is a fervent christian, maybe because it has always been there. Some people just don't pay much or any attention to it, some other may be unsettled by its symbolic meaning or just by the depiction of torture.

As the cross doesn't serve any other purpose and would probably fall under the category of "decoration", I don't see any reason for not removing it. Of course, the owner of the premise may object and choose to keep the decoration and you would be free to quit the job if that offend you so much. I personally wouldn't mind leaving a job in which my welfare is being utterly ignored, as that implies that the business doesn't appreciate my contribution enough to remove an object that has no function, but a symbolic one. Of course I wouldn't take a job either, in which the symbol or the message is part of job description, like working in a church, whose job is to convey a message and that couldn't fuction properly without its own symbols.

Unfortunately changing job has a cost and new positions aren't always readily avaiable. It also happens that a "dream job" , in which absolutely everything is perfect, are seldom found, so more often that not we are required to adapt to an extend to our workplace, which often means adapting to other people, which requires some flexibility.

As most people need to work for a living and often in less than optimal environments, it just make a lot of sense to reduce unnecessary friction to a minimum. That doesn't imply leaving our own self out of the door when working, but developing the very precious social skill of being able to work with almost everybody.

Yet some employer just doesn't seem to understand or even notice that some employees aren't "troublemakers", but may just not feel comfortable in some situation. Some callously just don't care, because they don't have to live the same situation or just share the mindset of the majority at a particular time and can't understand what all the fuss is about. Some may not consider the issue to be statistically significant, but one complaint is enough to signal the presence of a problem that just haven't scaled yet.

I sympathize with the pilot, not because I find porno to be necessarily demeaning, but because porno hasn't got any function in a cockpit and has a worker I wouldn't like working in what could be reasonably perceived as an hostile environment.
posted by elpapacito at 4:24 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


What have we become when we can't expect people to ignore things which offend them, though?

A society where bad behaviour isn't excused and perpetuated by accusing the victim of being thin-skinned?

Seriously, Weirdo, what are you defending here?
posted by fatbird at 4:25 PM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have no problem with this. Porn in the cockpits? C'mon, pilots, grow the fuck up.

That is, until...

According to her lawsuit, she developed a "severe condition" that required her to take medication and, ultimately, ground herself in August 2005.

No you fucking didn't. It's perfectly fine to say that you were grossed out by finding porn in your workplace, complained, and nothing was changed. But adding the whole "I was just so traumatized I developed an illness" bullshit isn't helping at all, and makes this seem like the perfect 'why we need tort reform' case.
I dislike inane lawsuits also, and yet, this suit may not rise to the level of utter frivolity because...

1. After reporting to her employer, the pilot seemed to have been "red flagged" for requests for what are company policy supported rest requests.

2. Perhaps all the non-support and weirdness involved with porn surprises while in flight and being singled out for no allowable rest days (no matter the situation or need) caused the pilot in question to see her physician...who prescribed for the stress/whatever.

I personally don't want a pilot flying me who has had to be situationally medicated. So, yes, grounded she should be. Nor a (literal) pilot who's a wanker.

Which means the airline should have handled their pilot resources with a better attitude before things got this far.

The work involved in becoming a commercial pilot is a lot of trouble to go to just to "run a scam" to become an artist living on a limited settlement for life. Sorta like becoming a surgeon for the sole reason of claiming a fear of operating rooms and the hope of a settlement that allows you to pursue your true ideal calling: hitchhiking and living in rest stops.

Also...mayhaps there is still a wee bit of boys club gooeyness still permeating an airline cockpit or two here or there...that is, considering the history and culture of flying in this country, such a club-holdout atmosphere at some random airline is hardly statistically an idea that is beyond impossible.
posted by Dunvegan at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think Weirdo is just asking if the punishment fits the crime.

Does being exposed to a few pornographic pictures (at least 20) earn you a large court settlement (yes, I'm guessing it's large)? Does it result in a "severe condition" that required medication and ultimately prevent you from flying?

The person(s) who left the images were at fault, and the airline failed to respond appropriately. Stout filed a single complaint in writing (which ended in a vaguely worded email), and verbally reported another incident. She logged 20 reports into the flight log, but the flight logs are not reviewed by management (should it be? Should anyone review it? And if so, did they report it?). Did Stout know the logs weren't reviewed and was trying to build a case, or was she genuinely trying to report it? This question isn't answered.

Also, the article states that she was retaliated against after reporting it. If that's true, that's the most damning part of the whole story (IMO, I already know there's a bit of disagreement). Hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps this wasn't handled correctly by either side (why wasn't the union contacted? Why wasn't HR contacted when the manager failed to address the issue to the pilot's satisfaction? Why didn't management contact HR after the initial report?).

The airline attorneys felt this was a losing case, and decided to settle. Given that this isn't the first case they had to defend, hopefully this prompts them to make the changes necessary to prevent future incidents.

I think the part that is rallying people againsther is the part about the severe medical condition. The details are not released, so its left to speculation. If the medical condition is supposedly related to being exposed to the images, some may feel she's thin-skinned or exaggerating. If they're completely unrelated, why isn't the suit about harassment due to a medical issue?
posted by ShadowCrash at 4:46 PM on March 30, 2009


I think the part that is rallying people againsther is the part about the severe medical condition. The details are not released, so its left to speculation.

True, and what they're speculating is that she asserted that her condition was a result of being exposed to pornography. There's no evidence that she ever made such an assertion. People do get sick, you know.
posted by fatbird at 4:50 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


fatbird wrote:Seriously, Weirdo, what are you defending here?

I'm defending the attitude of live and let live, not stupid pilots, nor the utterly moronic and malicious management.

If it were actual people dropping their pants in front of her, constant sexual advances, or even the aforementioned fellow with the penis glasses, that's pretty much impossible to ignore, but nude pictures.

And once again, I have absolutely no issue with her suing because management treated her poorly due to her complaints. They are by far the worst actor here. Far worse even than the pilots who thought it was funny to leave porn for the next shift.

I just think that 20 cases of this over the course of a couple of years is not worth getting worked up over.

Is it just that some people think that pornography is inherently degrading to women?

Perhaps part of the problem is indeed prudishness, not necessarily on the part of the female pilot, but just in society in general.
posted by wierdo at 5:23 PM on March 30, 2009


How about defending common courtesy? These people had a communal workspace, and it's nobody's right to treat it as their own personal juvenile playground. If I were a pilot, I'd be nearly as pissed if the previous crews left gum under the armrests or gross used tissues all over or obnoxious Bible-verse Post-Its tucked into the equipment or romance novels cluttering up the floor. If you have an ounce of consideration, you respect shared work spaces instead of being a selfish jerk who thinks the whole world needs to share your puerile sense of humor.

If someone else used my office when I wasn't there, I sure as hell wouldn't expect them to put up with remnants of my lunch or my plastic yard squirrel, two-foot-tall ceramic pink flamingo, pictures of Stewie and Brian Griffin smoking cigarettes, large mobile of dayglo non-existent fruit, etc.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I too believe in live and let live.

And I also believe than when pilots that are entrusted with the lives of hundreds of people clearly show the collective impaired judgment of fourth graders who have just stumbled onto their dad's playboy stash that they, and the company that hired them, should get the shit sued out of them until they are reminded that flying a motherfucking jet full of human beings is serious business and no place for Porky's level hi-jinks.

Live and let live. In that I don't believe these guys should be killed.

If this was a prank may I suggest alternate pranks for them.

For instance the best work-place prank I know was when we told a guy that we were gonna have themed costume dress-up days at work. It was very well organized. He received a a very detailed email outlining that he should wear a Toga to work on Friday. We even posted flyers.

And of course he was the only one that showed up that Friday in a toga.

That's a prank.
posted by tkchrist at 6:23 PM on March 30, 2009


The work involved in becoming a commercial pilot is a lot of trouble to go to just to "run a scam" to become an artist living on a limited settlement for life.

I don't think anyone implied that particular scenario. The implication is that she was "burned out", being an airline pilot can be quite stressful even sans porn, and found a way to leave a high stress occupation with a payout she wouldn't have otherwise received. Believe it or not when I worked in a factory I had conversations with people who expressed a theoretical willingness to sustain a fairly serious, but non-crippling, injury (missing toes seeming to be the most popular) in order to collect a substantial enough payout to forgo factory work. I believe that's what's known as an "exit strategy".
posted by MikeMc at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2009


tkchrist, in some people eye's, that's harassment. For some reason, you think sending an email to a coworker (targeting a specific coworker) with the intent to embarrass and degrade them, is better than leaving a few photos around for the next shift to find? Maybe it's a better prank, but it doesn't seem to be any less severe of an issue. More than a few corporations I've worked for would fire the sender of that email immediately.

Anyway, back to your first point. Many of the pilots are trained by the US military, and the attitudes picked up in the armed forces may partially explain the 'boys club' attitude displayed by many pilots. Not only do we entrust our military with flying "motherfucking jets", but we arm them with missiles and in some cases, nuclear ones. It's not an either or statement. People are fully capable of flying a jet seriously and making critical life or death decisions yet showing huge immaturity in other decisions. Just b/c they're idiots who leave photos around inappropriately doesn't mean they're poor pilots. Similarly, working in a job that doesn't have the same responsibilities doesn't mean it's ok to display pornographic pictures.
posted by ShadowCrash at 6:36 PM on March 30, 2009


Tk, don't take that the wrong way. I assume that your post was in jest, at least partially. It was more of a reply to the general opinion that b/c they were pilots, the situation was different than any other profession.
posted by ShadowCrash at 6:39 PM on March 30, 2009


I'm defending the attitude of live and let live, not stupid pilots, nor the utterly moronic and malicious management.... I just think that 20 cases of this over the course of a couple of years is not worth getting worked up over.

"Live and let live" is for finding a copy of Hustler under the Captain's chair in the cockpit. 20 incidents over two years is a routine practice, and there's nothing prudish at all about not wanting that routine practice to continue. Individually they're small incidents, but putting up with the same shit over two years is disproportionately irritating. That's not an incident, that's a culture, and I'm glad she challenged it.

Do the daughter test, Wierdo: If your daughter told you that guys kept planting porn where she'd find it, would you be so sanguine?
posted by fatbird at 6:43 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


People are fully capable of flying a jet seriously and making critical life or death decisions yet showing huge immaturity in other decisions. Just b/c they're idiots who leave photos around inappropriately doesn't mean they're poor pilots.

I think the point was that, if you're capable to flying motherfucking jets with nukes on them, you're capable of a bit of common courtesy, like keeping the locker room out of the cockpit when someone not "in the club" shows up.
posted by fatbird at 6:44 PM on March 30, 2009


fatbird wrote: Do the daughter test, Wierdo: If your daughter told you that guys kept planting porn where she'd find it, would you be so sanguine?

Yes, but that may be why I don't plan to have children. They'd probably end up in the care of child services. I don't meet the Victorian standards necessary to be allowed to breed.

As I said before, it would be an entirely different thing if someone were actually harassing my daughter (or son) in a targeted manner. There's no evidence here that was the case.

I guess I find it hard to get worked up over annoying things that happen less than 3% of the days of my life when there are annoying things that happen to me every single day without fail. It's too bad stupidity isn't a firing offense.
posted by wierdo at 8:09 PM on March 30, 2009


I'll read the rest of the thread in a bit, but first, I want to say that in this era of smartphones, netbooks, bittorrent, ubiquitous wifi, and flash memory cards the size of your fingernail that can hold 70 movies per, it seems a little odd to me that people would still be taping pictures to the underside of the ashtray. You have no way of knowing if I have a massive collection of porn unless you deliberately rifle through my files, and I'm not going to give you that opportunity, because I just don't think it's any of your business, k? The baby oil?...I have dry skin, excuse me, I have to apply it now.

And furthermore, I doubt that pilots, of all people, who operate fucking airplanes, have any trouble with the gadgets mentioned above.

Whoever is putting these pictures there is doing it because there's a serious shared culture of objectification at United, or because they want to mess with this woman. She's justified.

People: keep your porn footprint to yourself.
posted by saysthis at 8:59 PM on March 30, 2009


Some thoughts: I agree with those who believe that cockpit porn is offensive and should be removed, that the pilot seems to have done the best she could to go through official channels to get it removed, and that United failed to do so and is liable.

"According to her lawsuit, she developed a "severe condition" that required her to take medication and, ultimately, ground herself in August 2005."

I still have some questions though. This quote seems to imply that her severe condition was brought on by her occasional pornography encounters, and that I don't really understand. I'm not saying that it isn't possible, only that I don't understand how it is possible. Am I reading it wrong? I apologize if I've missed a plausible analysis of this upthread. I sure wish that I knew the terms of the settlement. If the condition was caused by the encounters, that would in my mind entitle her to a much larger compensation package.

I would also be interested in hearing more about the phenomenon of pornography in cockpits from the experts, MeFite pilots. Is this a ubiquitous thing? How do you feel about it?
posted by Kwine at 11:26 PM on March 30, 2009


Why is the ad hominem always busted out immediately when somebody decides to take the wrong position on a gender issue in here? There's so much name-calling in this thread.
posted by tehloki at 11:26 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Applemeat: Actually, Muffinman, I do work in an extremely "male" profession (patent law field).

Don't make me laugh. We were comparing heavily male professions like delivery driving and the military and you point out your patent lawyer colleagues? Well done, you've found a very specific counter example of an all male working environment where only the dumbest person would do or say anything that could be misconstrued. And you've missed the point completely, and probably deliberately.

FWIW, I don't think all men are sexist pigs. But you have to be naive beyond words not to think that the default setting of an all male environment would, unchecked, always break harassment laws.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:53 AM on March 31, 2009


Glad she stood up against the harassment and won. Brava!
posted by nickyskye at 6:02 AM on March 31, 2009


If it were actual people dropping their pants in front of her, constant sexual advances, or even the aforementioned fellow with the penis glasses, that's pretty much impossible to ignore, but nude pictures.

Why are the penis glasses worse than the porn? Or, to put it another way, why do you think your definition of what is ignorable and what isn't is more correct or valid than others? Clearly, a lot of people would find what happened to this woman offensive.

Also, some people have said it's not clear the male pilots were targeting her. But that doesn't really matter. If a woman starts working in a previously all-male workplace where hanging porn around was common, and she reports to management that the porn creates a hostile work environment, it has to stop. Or, since some people seem to be trying to turn this into a man vs. woman thing, if a straight guy starting working in previously all-gay-male workplace where gay porn was routinely displayed, and he reports to management that the porn creates a hostile work environment, it has to stop. Sometimes the behaviors of a formerly homogeneous environment have to bend when the workplace become heterogeneous. The new people deserve to be able to work in comfort too.
posted by Mavri at 8:28 AM on March 31, 2009


Also, some people have said it's not clear the male pilots were targeting her. But that doesn't really matter

It doesn't matter if you are determining what is appropriate in a workplace or not. Agreed.

It does matter in the context of harassment, in that specifically targeting someone with inappropriate behaviour is, in my opinion, a different order of harassment.

It's the difference between turning up to work and being offended that something is going on and getting all that plus the added questions of why you are being victimised and how bad it is going to get.

In this sense, "harassment" and "sexual harassment" are extremely poorly defined. One can feel harassed by any number of behaviours that were never originally intended to offend and one can imagine several shades of grey (although, I'd add, taping grot in airplane cockpits is not a grey area) but targeting someone in the knowledge that they are being made uncomfortable is rarely, if ever, ambiguous.

The frustration I have with some reported harassment cases is that too often one gets the picture that a borderline behaviour was tolerated by all employees and considered (within that environment) a norm until one individual gets put under pressure and claims they were harassed or offended all along. The claim of harassment is a smokescreen, a countermeasure, to a legitimate performance appraisal and is seen as a shortcut to the payola.

In most workplaces where colleagues are informal and relatively unguarded with one another it is easy to drag some comments or actions out of context at a later point and cry "harassment". The only way to mitigate that is to force all employees to interact one another in a sterile fashion, and to treat all colleagues as a lawsuit in the making.

In my work, my colleagues and I spend 50 hours a week alongside each other and occasionally socialise together. It's one of the things that makes the effort tolerable, and forges us together as a team. Pandering to the lowest common denominator and ridding our every utterance or action of possible offence would create such a dry, drab working environment it doesn't bear thinking about.

In the cases I've known about firsthand or secondhand from friends whose judgment I trust, the pattern is almost always the same: the vast majority of workplace complaints stem from people who are fundamentally crap at their job, workshy or both, and who use the complaint as leverage at the point when the business makes asks questions about their competence, attendance/sickness record.

Now, I don't know the ins and outs of this case although few upthread disagree with the statement that taping porn everywhere is not appropriate, and ignoring complaints about the porn is not appropriate. That aside, I do find it interesting (and would find it interesting if the fundamental of the case were different) that buried in the detail of this case we learn that the individual involved had a lousy sickness record for an unspecified condition (fatigue) and would have been sacked if her professional conduct had been known at the time.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2009


Let's muddy the water a little:
A Chicago divorce attorney who posed nude and wrote a legal advice column for Playboy.com filed suit Monday alleging that an executive of the publishing empire sexually harassed her.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:09 AM on March 31, 2009


That aside, I do find it interesting (and would find it interesting if the fundamental of the case were different) that buried in the detail of this case we learn that the individual involved had a lousy sickness record for an unspecified condition (fatigue) and would have been sacked if her professional conduct had been known at the time.

It's not buried--it's at the end of the first link. The pilot's employment records were part of the case:
United insists that the instances were not related and that Stout was a difficult and abrasive employee. The judge, however, noted that United "reprimanded and red-flagged" Stout only after she had complained and that, before that, she had no performance issues or problems with her supervisors.

Coughenour [the judge] said that, while the question should be decided by a jury, he was convinced that a jury "could reasonably find a ... case of retaliation."
Stout had a clean employment history at United until she complained about porn being hidden in her cockpit.
posted by gladly at 10:14 AM on March 31, 2009


gladly, I've read it and point taken. I have also read the part where it says that had her professional misconduct been known at the time, she would have been sacked.

I'm not defending United per se, nor do I disagree with the statement that their actions were catalysed by her complaints.

I am, however, saying that in my experience complaints stem from people who are under performance / attendance pressure. That isn't always captured on paper (or at least isn't in my experience).

While I don't know the ins and outs of this case, I nonetheless find it interesting that similar patterns emerged - concerns about attendance and performance, even though accepting that these only appear formally after her complaints.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:29 AM on March 31, 2009


I know the misconduct you're mentioning, MuffinMan, but the allegation that she made false statements to the FAA (nothing to do with her performance or attendance) was brought by United and the judge in the case still was convinced that Stout's suit should go to trial and she should be allowed to seek punitive damages and would be able to prove retaliation.

I don't agree that harassment victims are more likely to be underperforming workers with substandard attendance, and I don't see any evidence of that in this case.
posted by gladly at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2009


While I don't know the ins and outs of this case [Indeed--none of us really do because it was settled out of court and no doubt included a confidentiality clause] I nonetheless find it interesting that similar patterns emerged - concerns about attendance and performance, even though accepting that these only appear formally after her complaints.

MuffinMan, not only is your assertion that complainers tend to be lazy workers unsupported by the facts that we do know in this case, but it misses the reality that any would-be defendant corporation threatened with expensive and embarrassing harassment litigation has a strong incentive—no, make that duty-- to defend itself by assembling a plausible position against the plaintiff and bringing in any plausible facts and theories that will put into question the plaintiff’s motives. The fact that Stout was never written up before she spoke out against United speaks much about which one of these parties, Stout or United, was likely more truthful in this matter--And apparently, the court agreed when it ruled that Stout's case should proceed to trial and that she should be permitted to seek punitive damages (which are not commonly awarded, btw.)

I find it sad and peculiar when people seem more willing to trust the motives of corporations (that have teams of experienced directors and lawyers and cost-benefit analysts leading their every action) than of employees and individuals, a minority of whom, yes, may be layabouts looking for something for nothing. (I blame much of this phenomenon on Corporate America's best friend, that fucking McDonalds hot coffee legend, which has been well covered here on the blue.)
posted by applemeat at 11:33 AM on March 31, 2009


Mavri wrote: Why are the penis glasses worse than the porn? Or, to put it another way, why do you think your definition of what is ignorable and what isn't is more correct or valid than others? Clearly, a lot of people would find what happened to this woman offensive.

Because you can't ignore an asshole standing in front of you waving his penis around. Especially when it's your boss wearing the penis. Additionally, it's clearly and unambiguously directed at you and clearly designed to make you in particular uncomfortable.

One is like finding a porno mag laying around. The other is like having a stripper grind on you. I leave to the reader to choose which is which.
posted by wierdo at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2009


I find it sad and peculiar when people seem more willing to trust the motives of corporations

I'm sorry it makes you sad. You've skipped the bit where I've said that my thoughts on the issue are informed by my own firsthand experiences and those of friends whose judgment I trust.

I find it just as peculiar that you prejudge issues the other way. I hold no brief for corporations, nor think they act from the purest of motives. Again, in my experience - and perhaps I've just been lucky - I've come across far more employees willing to game the system than employers.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:55 PM on March 31, 2009


As attempts to put an upstart in their place, I don't see a lot of difference between male pilots leaving porn in a female pilot's workspace and white pilots leaving Confederate flags in a black pilot's workspace.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:28 PM on March 30 [7 favorites +] [!]


I agree that this leaving porn around *oops* business is BS and she shouldn't have to put up with that shit and is seemingly well within reasonable lawsuit territory when her company won't act, but seriously - comparing porn to the Confederacy? That's fucked up.
posted by xorry at 6:45 PM on March 31, 2009


A Chicago divorce attorney who posed nude and wrote a legal advice column for Playboy.com filed suit Monday alleging that an executive of the publishing empire sexually harassed her.

How does that "muddy the waters"? It doesn't matter what she did for a living, or if she once posed nude for a magazine. That doesn't give someone permission to harass her. [/hasn't rtfa]
posted by jokeefe at 7:28 PM on March 31, 2009


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