United Airlines flight attendants want Dodgers questioned about racial bias claims

United Airlines flight attendants want Dodgers questioned about racial bias claims

Veteran United Airlines flight attendant Darby Quezada thought she was breaking a racial barrier when she was selected in 2020 to work on charter flights for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But then Quezada stopped getting chosen for the coveted flights because, she alleges in a lawsuit, the Dodgers preferred attendants who were young and white.

“The wall is still there. I didn’t break anything,” Quezada said in an interview Monday, Oct. 30. Quezada, 44, is of Black, Mexican and Jewish heritage. She and fellow flight attendant Dawn Todd, a 50-year-old Black woman, filed a lawsuit last week against United claiming racial and religious discrimination in staffing the Dodgers charter flights.

“For me, (the job) meant everything,” Quezada said. “I am a minority. I tried to join the charter since 2008 when I was first hired, but I was told I didn’t fit a look.”

The lawsuit claims United officials and Dodgers traveling secretary Scott Akasaki “blatantly” selected flight attendants for the charter based on how they looked: “white, young, thin women who are predominately blond and blue-eyed.”

Quezada, in the lawsuit, claimed United flight coordinator Amy Lagera told her she was shocked that Akasaki once said “hi” to Quezada since he only prefers white and Asian flight attendants.

United denies allegations

United spokesman Charles Hobart on Tuesday reiterated that the accusations are false.

“United fosters an environment of inclusion and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We believe this lawsuit is without merit and intend to defend ourselves vigorously,” Hobart said in an earlier email.

For the second time, Dodgers’ management declined comment.

Dawn Todd, left, and Darby Quezada, right, with their attorney, Sam Yebri of Los Angeles, on Oct. 30, 2023. The two flight attendants are suing United Airlines because they were not selected for the charter crew for Los Angeles Dodgers flights for not being young, white and thin. (Photo by Axel Koester, Contributing Photographer) 

Sam S. Yebri, an attorney representing Quezada and Todd, said he intends to question Dodgers officials under oath and, depending on what he finds, may consider adding the team as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Quezada and Todd said they were never mistreated by members of the Dodgers on the flights.

Previous lawsuit

United has been sued at least once before for alleged racial bias in staffing their sports charters. That suit was settled, according to Yebri, resulting in the addition of Quezada to the crew in 2020 and Todd in 2022. Both have more than 15 years of experience, but had to undergo extensive interviews to get the charter job.

Working on the Dodgers charter is considered a prime assignment. Crew members earn more money for longer flights, receive premium accommodations and higher per diem compensation, and often receive valuable sporting event tickets, field passes and rare sports merchandise, the suit said.

Todd and Quezada said they were obliged to keep their flight schedules open to be available for the Dodgers charter, consequently losing money when they weren’t selected for flights.

“This is something I wanted to do before I retire,” Todd said. “You give up things to try and do something nice, (with) more prestige. It’s a cool position to have.”

But then they began to get tapped for flights fewer and fewer times, in favor of others with less experience who fit the look and didn’t have to undergo interviews, according to Yebri.

Mistreatment after complaints

When Quezada and Todd complained, they were allegedly mistreated by other attendants.

“I was talking in Spanish to a Dodgers’ pitcher, he didn’t speak English,” Quezada said. “And (another) flight attendant said, ‘We’re in America, speak English.’ “

Quezada said the pitcher asked her what the other flight attendant had said, but Quezada changed the subject and didn’t tell him.

Quezada added that in 2022, another attendant told her that the only reason she was on the charter was to clean the bathroom, which had to be kept extra sanitary because of COVID.

“I was always handed the wipes to do it,” she said. “(They said) I am the maid.”

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Mental health leave

Quezada said she had to go on mental health leave for eight months because of the retaliation. “I was bypassed by a three-year flight attendant who was blond-haired, blue-eyed (and) female,” she said.

Todd said she suffered migraine headaches, stress, loss of appetite, hair loss and bouts of crying.

Their attorney, Yebri, said both women look forward to airing their allegations in court.

“I believe it was United that failed to police and allow this culture of racist comments to be made,” he said.