California air traffic controllers' lawsuit alleges harassment, discrimination
Web posted at: 2:01 a.m. EDT (0601 GMT)
From San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg Lefevre
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Five female air traffic controllers working in Oakland, California, have filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
"Some days when you go in it's pure hell depending on who you're working with because you don't know what games they're going to play that day." says Oakland, California, air traffic controller Cynthia Trahan.
Juli Carlton, another air traffic controller, says she and the other female controllers worry about the airline passengers' safety. "It's not a good situation for anybody, certainly not for the flying public. Because if the controllers that are working aircraft are upset and distracted you're not going to get the service that you deserve."
The suit, filed June 1 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, contends the Federal Aviation Administration has not adequately enforced its policy against gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
The women hope to force the FAA to intervene and end harassment in the control towers and regional air traffic control center in Fremont, California, near San Francisco. The Oakland center guides passenger-laden jetliners over a 15-million square mile area of the Western states and Pacific Ocean.
The FAA last year sent a team of investigators to the Oakland Center. The team interviewed 154 employees. The internal findings say the interviews "...revealed low morale, trepidation and declining performance are prevalent," due to the harassment and poor management.
FAA officials refused to discuss the internal report or the lawsuit with CNN. Instead it issued a statement by Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey. The FAA, she says, is "committed to enforcing a zero tolerance policy for any behavior that creates a hostile work environment," and "...in no instance will the FAA let workplace behavior affect safety."
The women cite incidents beginning last year that range from sexual harassment to creating a hostile work environment for the women.
The suit claims no female controller has been promoted above the most elementary supervisor level, despite veteran experience of up to 13 years.
Carlton alleges a male controller diverted a jetliner into her airspace without telling her.
"To violate the airspace without giving me the proper coordination, offer me the opportunity to point out any traffic certainly was a jeopardization of the public safety," says Carlton.
"If the plane is delayed it could cause an accident down the line or a near miss with another airplane because it's not on the course it should be," adds Trahan
Trahan has seen her car vandalized and received a series of threatening notes. "One was a sheet of paper describing me in 45 different adjectives, some of them we had to look up because he hadn't heard before."
Other examples of harassment include:
"I feel sick every day," Carlton says. "Concentration's affected. You don't know what they're going to do next."
Under a new labor agreement with the controllers, the FAA has agreed to gradually increase the number of controllers by about 800. Many of those applicants will be women, but Carlton says they "find another job."
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