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.”

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  • Tallest

    How many fucking times can you say passion(ate) in one fucking letter?

    Christ, that was a terrible read.

  • The Milkman

    I’ve said it before about Target, and I’ll say it again.

    There is no such thing as a gay-friendly corporation. There are only corporations that are profitable and those that are not. Those companies with the HRC approval are simply companies whose directors have decided that supporting the equal treatment of GLBT employees is good for the bottom line. The second it costs the company anything, those protections are out the door.

  • Bareback Cuntessa

    Well, a corporation has fiduciary responsibility to do what’s best for…

    Wait for it…

    Its shareholders.

    Employees be damned (unless they are based in a state with stringent employment non-discrimination statutes).

    I love JetBlue, but this makes me seriously reconsider that love. I guess I’ll start looking for a new airline to SFO, LAS, ORD, BOS and JFK…!

  • TommyOC

    @Tallest: Even though I thumbed you down, I’ll chime in that yes, the letter was full of corporate-speak. Once you believe in your employer’s goals, you adopt their terminology. It’s hard to separate from that. Ask any Disney employee.

    The fact that this writer employs the words “passion(ate)” and “humanity” speaks volumes for JetBlue’s stated commitment to these goals.

    It’s just too bad they don’t seem to practice what they preach.

    With any luck, JetBlue will respond to this. If not anything else, JetBlue has been pretty forthcoming in responding to criticism in the past. I hope this issue gets them to review their policies.

  • Aunt Sharon

    @Tallest: Nine, it would seem. It’s the tenth that drove you over the edge.

  • Hmmmmmm (John from England)


    Tallest deserved it because he was being an a**hole.

  • BlueMan

    I experienced something similar to this back in 2007 when I was employed as an Inflight Crew Member with Jet Blue.. My mother was very ill and I was trying to help take care of her. During that same period, my partner of 10 years and I decided to go our separate ways. We had everything together…a house, 2 cars, bank accounts, bills, etc. and I needed some time off of work to get things taken care. As you can imagine, my life was turned upside down. I spoke to my supervisor Ron Haskins and he told me to speak with Karen Cozzie who was the manager or director of inflight at the time. She could not have been more uncaring and rude. She basically told me…”Sorry, the only thing you can do is get a note from your mom’s Dr. stating that you have to help take care of her and get put on FMLA. She said that my life changing event with my partner did not qualify for time off of work. Really?? I then asked her if the roles were reversed and if I was getting divorced from my wife, would that qualify for time of work? She wouldn’t give me a straight forward answer. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I finally said so you are going to make me quit the job that I love because you will not grant me time off of work to get things straightened out? She said yes. I then asked her…where is your “Caring value” at in this situation?? I didn’t even let her respond because I was so upset. I left her office, got my bags, hopped on an AA flight and never went back to work.

  • dave

    I guess that I should not be surprised about Jet Blue and their thinly veiled intolerance. They are after all yet another business founded by another religious nut. There was always the Jet Blue Mormon connection that I admit I ignored.(shame on me) I usually fly with them at least 6 times a month. Although they have been inching up their ticket prices and no longer such a deal. It’s now less expensive to fly on AA or Delta (w/Priceline or that type of ticket site.) Oh well, Good Bye Jet Blue! I realize that losing my business will not hurt your bottom line, but I will at least feel better about where I spend my $$$ or not. OK, now someone tell me all the things I should hate about AA and Delta. I’ll soon be driving coast to coast. One more thing; why do people keep quoting the thoroughly discredited HRC and their good for gays brownie point system? That alone should have been my clue to move along.

  • jimmy

    this boy should have realized that you can’t claim medical disability under the family medical leave act after the fact. he should have applied as soon as he was diagnosed with ms. the forms are easily downloaded from gov. website and your employer is also required to provide them if asked. this letter seems rambling and incoherent and whining after you got the axe. jetblue would have been required to provided appropriate accomodations, considering your illness, without a drop in pay. seems you didn’t plan very well and rather than accept responsibility you rather blame jetblue, and no i don’t work for them.

  • AlanZ

    If I too hadn’t gotten MS I would have been with Macy’s for 11 years this last May. I was a Visual Merchandiser a job I loved. It was hard work challenging and fun. but the MS took my legs and after a fall I was hospitalized. That was last November, it took until February to be diagnosed. When I got sick my Mgr. Jim took care of arranging for mr to use what I had left of my vacation days so that I had a paycheck for at least a couple of weeks. And then the main company HR dept set me up with the FMLA. My husbands job required phone call and later filling out of a simple form. all thru this Jim called and checked on me.And when I went into a rehab facility he visited. Actions speak louder than words. All of the flowery words mean nothing if your not there when it counts. Macy’s was a wonderful place to work and I miss them and my job dearly. JetBlue should be ashamed. Unfortunately they won’t be hurt by this. And if they are all they have to is throw a few bucks at pride festivals. Have a few of thier gay employees march down the street and our community will be strapping in to the next circuit party. Sad really reall f-ing sad.

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