January 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay employee sues airline association for discrimination
Air Transport Association of America, gay news, Washington Blade, Airlines for America, A4A

Airlines for America logo

A gay auditor at the D.C.-based Air Transport Association of America filed a lawsuit in September charging the group with paying him a “substantially” lower salary than others with similar job duties because of his sexual orientation.

Arlington, Va., resident Stephen Farina, who has worked for the association since 1992, charges in the lawsuit that the association, also known as Airlines for America or A4A, retaliated against him after he filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint against the group over the salary issue before the D.C. Office of Human Rights in May.

“During plaintiff’s employment, plaintiff’s supervisor made derogatory comments about plaintiff’s sexual orientation when he stated on several occasions that he opposed gay rights and gay marriage [and] referred to plaintiff as a ‘fag’ and a ‘bonafide bone sucker’ to plaintiff’s subordinate,” the lawsuit charges.

It says the same supervisor, who is not identified in the lawsuit, “made disparaging comments towards another gay employee under his supervision.”

A4A bills itself as the leading advocacy organization for the nation’s passenger airline companies.

Victoria Day, a spokesperson for the association, responded to a request by the Washington Blade for a comment on the lawsuit with a one sentence statement: “A4A does not tolerate discrimination in any form and intends to vigorously dispute these allegations.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein, who is presiding over the case, issued a ruling on Dec. 13 denying a motion by A4A calling for the dismissal of the case based on procedural grounds.

Epstein ordered the two parties to participate in a court required mediation process while setting a timetable for pre-trial information gathering and pre-trial motions if the mediation is unsuccessful.

Farina told the Blade he spent nearly four years attempting without success to address with A4A’s upper management what he calls A4A’s discriminatory employment practices toward him regarding his salary.

His lawsuit says he began work with the A4A in 1992 as a staff auditor at a salary of $28,000. It says A4A officials “had knowledge that plaintiff is gay” throughout most of his tenure with the organization.

According to the lawsuit, in August 2001, Farina was promoted to manager of audits with an annual salary of $61,000. Around February 2008 his title changed to director of industry audits, which brought a raise to $68,000.

Farina told the Blade that authoritative studies of the industry show that people holding similar jobs with other employers and others with similar job duties at A4A make between $100,000 and $160,000.

“Plaintiff’s principal role is to provide guidance and oversight for vendors hired to operate 60 of the largest jet fuel storage and distribution systems in the United States and Canada,” the lawsuit says. “On information and belief, other similarly situated non-gay directors are paid substantially more than plaintiff.”

The lawsuit calls for $1 million or more in damages to be determined at trial to compensate for “lost pay, front pay, lost benefits, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, interest [and] reasonable attorney’s fees,” among other things.

Farina said he dropped his Human Rights Office complaint and filed the lawsuit at the advice of his attorney after determining a lawsuit would be a more effective means of addressing his discrimination complaint.

Farina’s lawsuit was filed three months before the Human Rights Campaign released its 2012 Corporate Equality Index ratings of U.S. corporations on personnel policies pertaining to LGBT employees.

Most of the major U.S. airline companies received ratings of between 90 and 100, the highest score given to companies that ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the HRC Corporate Equality Index, companies receiving high ratings, like the airline companies, provide domestic partner benefits and adopt other supportive policies toward LGBT employees.

Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines, which received an HRC Equality Index rating of 90, serves as A4A’s chairman of the board, and the board is composed mostly of airline industry executives, according to industry observers.

It couldn’t immediately be determined by press time whether the airline officials who play a key role in the A4A’s operations were aware of the allegations against the association made in Farina’s lawsuit.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero on Dec. 26 dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed by another gay A4A employee, David Duchow, on procedural grounds. Court records show that Duchow, who charged A4A with employment discrimination based on his sexual orientation, represented himself in the case without a lawyer.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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