Airline Employee Wins $1 Million in Discrimination Lawsuit

Edward Russell, a former Express Jet Airlines employee, applied for a promotion several times. But not only was Russell rejected from the position, he was told not to waste his time applying. Why didn’t Express Jet give Russell a promotion?

Because Russell is openly gay.

Maine’s Human Rights Act states that it’s illegal to discriminate based on sexuality, so no matter how you look at it, Express Jet was not following the laws. But their reasoning was different than what you might expect.

In 2003-2004, three female employees who applied for a supervisory job complained that a gay Express Jet general manager only hired gay men. The general manager lost his job, but the company may have had hesitations about promoting another gay man after the complaints. Aside from Russell’s lack of promotion, he said that a regional director referred to a new manager as a “real man” and made comments about gay employees at Express Jet.

In an exciting victory, a jury awarded Russell over $1 million, including $500,000 for emotional distress, $500,000 for punitive damages, and $47,000 in lost wages. The judge will determine at what amount the award will be capped, estimated at about $547,000 plus attorney fees and costs. The case makes Maine history as the largest award from a discrimination case based on sexual orientation.

Photo credit: Stephan Segraves