workplace

Did JetBlue Force Out 2 Gay Flight Attendants Because One Had to Take Leave To Care For The Other?

While escape hatch flight attendant Steven Slater never said anything about JetBlue being a homophobic place to work, one flight attendant with multiple sclerosis tells a different story after his partner — also a JetBlue crew member — found himself forced out of a job when he took time off to care for him.

We don’t have all the facts in this story, but keep in mind as you read their tale: the Human Rights Campaign just awarded JetBlue with a 100 percent score in its Corporate Equality Index, for, according to the airline’s release, “reflecting its commitment to continuous improvement and to making JetBlue a great place to work for all 13,000 of its crewmembers in 12 countries throughout the Americas.

In an open letter to “My Fellow Inflight Crew, and all those who strive for humanity,” Sean Ward writes about he and partner Francisco Martinez:

On July 6th, 2004; I boarded a flight to Fort Lauderdale because I believed in something. I was given the opportunity to be an Inflight Crew Member with Jet Blue Airways – and they wanted me to train to be a safe Flight Attendant with passion, with integrity, and with humanity. I boarded that flight because I believed in the mission of this endeavor: to bring humanity back to air travel by bringing my humanity to the skies. I earned my wings and spoke about my passion for our mission at my Inflight graduation and in 2005, I was elected to share my passion in preserving our mission as a member of the Inflight Values Team. And, I am writing you this letter because I still believe in our mission and wish to keep it safe while I still can.

Aside from our safety responsibilities; it is our charge as Inflight Crew to be the face of our brand and share our passion whenever we wear our wings. Because we feel passionate about humanity, we bring life to Jet Blue using our values as a framework. We are gracious accepting accolades and accountability for all that is Jet Blue – no matter our direct involvement. From amazing service to broken televisions; we work tirelessly to prove to our customers that the Jet Blue brand cares about them as people, and not as a variable in an economics equation. We are committed to this because we believe in our mission and we believe in each other. I can also say that as an Inflight Crew Member for over six years, I have also graciously said “thank you” to all of our customers as well as accept appropriate accountability for the brand any for myself. Additionally, we were sold a brand during our review that was committed to treating us with dignity, passion, and with the same caliber of brand we committed to providing for their customers. We were told that Jet Blue; through it’s servant leadership, would be a steward for our well being as a vital asset to their mission – because if you take good care of your crew members, they will take good care of the customers. We committed to working tirelessly for the success of the airline because they have committed to treating all of us with humanity.

Now in 2010, we find ourselves in conflict over our brand – and with each other. We want to make good on our commitment to our mission and use all of our resources towards preserving all that is Jet Blue. Some of us feel that through using the proper channels and appealing to the humanity of our leadership we can preserve what we believe in. Others are passionate about joining together in solidarity to have meaningful discussions over our brand expectations with a unified, clearly defined voice. Both sides of this coin have strong will but for the same passion – to preserve Jet Blue. I can tell you with all honesty that I have felt entrenched on both camps; but it wasn’t until I was forced to gain perspective that I also found passion for our unity.

I feel comfortable in sharing with you that in early 2009, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis; and the effects of this condition prevent me from being able to be a Flight Attendant. I turned to our leadership at Jet Blue for guidance during this difficult time and I was greeted with apathy and hostility. I requested reassignment under the American’s with Disabilities Act and was first ignored and then denied. I was given the choice to be transferred to a ramp position (with a physical disability), or separate from the company.

In 2005 I met Francisco Martinez on a jetway in JFK with no idea that we would choose to spend the rest of our lives together. Francisco Martinez, who has now been a crew member at Jet Blue for eight years; was told he will be terminated for unauthorized leave as Jet Blue does not recognize same sex relationships. The times he selflessly cared for me at home and in the hospital are considered unapproved leave and he is pending termination for his “dependability.” Imagine yourself with the same choice: abandon the one you love in their time of need to selflessly give humanity to airline customers, or stay with the one you love in their time of need and jeopardize your employment. And imagine yourself with this quandary knowing that others in your same situation are given concessions and acceptance for their commitments – while you are forced to suffer with no justification.

I have also been placed in the same position as my only option is to return to the line or separate – even though flying would jeopardize my safety and the safety of others.

Doesn’t Jet Blue have anti-discrimination policies and abide by the ADA? Aren’t there same sex protections available at Jet Blue? Shouldn’t the values and humanity of our brand prevent this? The answer is YES. But that is what Employed at Will means – your employer has the will to do what they will. And, where there is a will there is a way. It is true I could pack it up, opt – out and move on; but allowing our leadership to walk away from our mission violates every crew member’s integrity. These types of actions have happened in the past – and committing to discrimination and abandoning the values is not what we stand for as Inflight Crew. We must stand together with dignity and humanity, to indicate to our leadership that we believe in the mission and the values of Jet Blue. We must stand in Solidarity to preserve all that is Jet Blue in an attempt to restore our corporate humanity. As Inflight Crew we brought humanity to the skies and it is time we work together to bring humanity back to Jet Blue. I commit to you that I will work for justice and accountability in my own case because I believe in our brand and our mission – but one person can only do so much. I implore you – if you believe in the mission, the passion, the values and the humanity of Jet Blue; then stand united with your fellow Inflight Crew members and preserve what we have created at Jet Blue. Stand together united because you can get more done united that I can accomplish alone.

UPDATE: Responds JetBlue: “JetBlue is in full compliance with all ADA and FMLA requirements. We will not comment on the specifics of this individual’s claim out of respect for their privacy, except to say that the crewmembers are still employed by JetBlue and we disagree with their interpretation of the circumstances surrounding this issue.”