Jon Campisi Dec. 13, 2013, 7:27am


Suzanna Armstrong was familiar with her employer’s policy on visible

“offensive” tattoos.

But her body art was far from offensive, she argues, the ink consisting of floral patterns and other imagery she considered pleasing, not offending, to the eyes.

She soon found out, however, that Piedmont Airlines Inc. shared a different view.

The Delaware County woman filed suit in federal court this week against Piedmont, which does business as US Airways Express, over the circumstances behind her June 22, 2011 firing.

Armstrong, who was hired in early 2008, initially worked as a gate agent for the defendant before her promotion to unit manager in the spring of 2011.

In mid-May of that year, her lawsuit says, a supervisor identified as Lancelot Smith called her aside to tell the plaintiff her visible tattoos were unacceptable, and that she needed to cover them up.

Armstrong pointed Smith to the employee handbook, which stated that only “offensive” tattoos or “extreme piercings” were inappropriate for the job, but she was suspended nonetheless for not complying with her supervisor’s directive to cover-up.

According to the lawsuit, less than 5 percent of Armstrong’s flower tattoo was visible on duty, while the rest of her ink was invisible to customers.

Armstrong claims that she was singled out for disparate treatment because of her race; she is white.

Numerous other non-white employees have not been disciplined or criticized for their visible tattoos and extreme piercings, the complaint states.

On June 13, 2011, Armstrong was suspended by Smith, her supervisor, for insubordination because she purportedly failed to cover her tattoos, the lawsuit states.

And despite the defendant’s progressive discipline “corrective action” policy, which normally provides a four-step process that leads to eventual termination, the plaintiff says she was terminated right after her suspension.

“At the time Plaintiff was discharged, she had never before been disciplined or warned for insubordination,” the complaint states. “Insofar as Defendant failed to progressively discipline Plaintiff for insubordination, Defendant violated its own progressive discipline policy.”

The complaint accuses the defendant of race-based discrimination and intentional discrimination.

It says the airline violated both the federal Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Armstrong seeks more than $100,000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, as well as attorney’s fees, costs and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

Philadelphia attorneys Jeffrey Campolongo and William S. Braveman are representing the plaintiff.

 

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-07218-JCJ.

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