SEATAC, Wash. - Ji-Won Kim, Lilian Park, Jean Yi and Jongjin An have a combined total of 50 years of experience working for Delta Airlines at Sea-Tac Airport.
“I treated all Delta passengers as my family - brothers and sisters, parents,” Park told KIRO 7.
“Everything came from the heart.”
All four women were born in Korea. Park, Yi and An are now U.S. citizens. Kim expects to be one soon.
All four women believe their fluency in the Korean language was one of the reasons they were all hired by Delta, which flies daily between Sea-Tac and South Korea.
According to Yi, Korean-speaking passengers “were so glad to see me. They say, 'Oh I feel so comfortable. You know, they don’t speak English.'”
All worked in customer service as desk and gate agents, “helping people, helping passengers” An said.
However, all of them were fired by Delta in May 2017.
According to a lawsuit filed recently in King County Superior Court, "though assigned to work flights to and from Korea, composed of many Korean-speaking passengers, they were singled out and admonished for speaking Korean."
An said she was told by her Delta manager there were complaints “from the other non-Korean-speaking agents. They feel uncomfortable, so please limit speaking Korean.” But the women – who are all over 40 and all plaintiffs in the lawsuit – claim other foreign language-speaking Delta employees were never told to limit their speech and that only the Korean speakers were.
Kim, Park, Yi and An also claim to have been sexually harassed by the same Delta employee, numerous times, on the job.
“I tried to avoid touching,” Yi told KIRO 7. “So when he came to the gate, I just moved out of sight. I didn’t want to deal with him touching, whispering.”
“It was a daily thing” for the agent to touch her, Park said. She and Kim reported the unwanted touching to Delta supervisors and said they were promised another incident would get the male gate agent fired.
“That agent is still working there and the touching has not stopped,” their attorney, Jennifer Song, said.
“We also suspect that their termination is related to the reporting of sexual harassment.”
According to Song, who works at the Law Offices of Judith A. Lonnquist in Seattle, “I thought this was a pretty clear case of discrimination.”
The lawsuit alleges “race and national origin discrimination and retaliation.”
The complaint for damages also reveals the women "were suspended and ultimately terminated for allegedly offering unauthorized upgrades." The woman said those upgrades are standard.
“Offering free upgrades, especially on an oversold flight, is a common practice” Kim said, “but suddenly, it became a reason to be terminated, just for us, for Korean women.”
Song described the behavior for which the women were terminated as “a common occurrence on over-sold flights. Other agents do it, on a daily basis.”
However, only the four Korean-born women were fired by Delta Airlines, according to their lawsuit.
It’s not the treatment Park expected in this country, at a company that caters to international clients.
“No, not at all. Country of freedom, and this is what I got from the company,” Park said. “This is United States. Everybody should be treated equally.”
Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant declined KIRO 7’s request for an on-camera interview and instead emailed the following statement:
"Delta does not tolerate workplace discrimination or harassment of any kind. Such behavior runs counter to our core values of diversity and inclusion and our mission of connecting the world.
"We take allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination very seriously and our investigations into allegations made by these former employees were found to be without merit.
"These former employees were unfortunately but appropriately terminated because the company determined they violated ticketing and fare rules.
Delta is confident that these claims will ultimately be determined to be without merit."
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