Monday, June 17, 2024

American Airlines fires legal team for ‘blaming’ 9-year-old girl recorded in bathroom

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The company backpedaled after the comments in court documents gained public attention. Now, it has fired the lawyers who wrote the filing and hired new ones.

American Airlines has fired its legal team following statements that a young girl was negligent after being recorded using the bathroom by a flight attendant.

The change in counsel comes a week after the airline landed in hot water over a May 21 court filing that stated that a 9-year-old girl was recorded through her “own fault and negligence,” while using the bathroom, according to previous USA TODAY reporting. 

The company quickly backpedaled, telling USA TODAY that “outside legal counsel, retained with our insurance company made an error in this filing.” 

The airline replaced the previous legal team with Kelly Hart & Hallman, a Texas-based firm, the company told USA TODAY Wednesday.  

“We do not believe this child is at fault and we take the allegations involving a former team member very seriously,” the airline said. “Our core mission is to care for people − and the foundation of that is the safety and security of our customers and team.”

Here’s what we know.

Former American Airlines employee charged with recording minors

The U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the State of Massachusetts says that former American Airlines flight attendant Estes Thompson had recordings of four girls − ages 7, 9, 11 and 14 − using the bathroom while he worked on their flights.

He’s been charged with secretly recording the girls, the attempted sexual exploitation of children and possessing images of child sexual abuse.

USA TODAY’s messages with Thompson’s lawyers were not immediately answered Wednesday night.

Over 50 photographs of the 9-year-old girl were found on Thompson’s iCloud, Apple’s cloud service that stores and syncs data cross devices. There were also photos of her seated pre-flight and close ups of her face while she slept, according to the district attorney’s office.

The girl, the same one American Airlines referred to as negligent in court records, is suing the airline.

Girls’ lawyer ‘not surprised’ American Airlines switched legal teams

Paul Llewellyn, an attorney representing the 9-year-old and another girl in the case, said that American Airlines’ attorney swap was a direct result of the “intense media and public backlash surrounding the outrageous allegation.” 

“With the benefit of this new legal representation, we hope that American Airlines will now take a fresh look at the case and finally take some measure of responsibility for what happened to our client,” Llewellyn said in a statement to USA TODAY Wednesday. 

 Llewellyn said his team is “very confident that a Texas jury will do the right thing and hold American Airlines responsible.”

“I was both shocked and outraged,” Llewellyn told USA TODAY. “As a lawyer I understand that you have to assert possible defenses, but I cannot even imagine a world where it would ever be appropriate to blame a 9-year-old for being filmed in an airplane bathroom.”

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