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Korean American Flight Attendants File Bias Suit

October 17, 2003|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

Six flight attendants from Southern California who were laid off by Korean Air in May have sued the airline, charging that they were discriminated against because they are Korean Americans.

In a Superior Court complaint filed Wednesday, the six women -- all U.S. citizens -- accuse the carrier of using the pretext of severe economic hardship to eliminate their jobs.

They were part of the airline's "American regional flight attendants" group, made up of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, hired for their bilingual abilities and bicultural awareness, according to Kaylynn Kim, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Cynthia L. Filla, attorney for Korean Air, said the company "denies any wrongdoing with respect to these plaintiffs."

In the lawsuit, the women charge that, even as the airline laid off the entire American flight attendants group, it hired Korean nationals.

Named as plaintiffs are Tina Lee, Su Kyong Chong, Hyun Joo Kang, Connie Kim, Hyun Sook Kim and Sarah Hong, all from Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties and employed by the airline six to 18 years.

They contend that the company violated employment provisions of both state and federal laws. The plaintiffs are asking the court to reinstate them with back pay and unspecified damages for the hardship caused by the layoffs.

The airline maintained a two-tier system of employee ranking that deprived Korean Americans of the same promotional opportunities and benefits as other employees, Kim alleged. For example, Korean American flight attendants were not eligible for early retirement or paid maternity leave, and were seldom allowed to work in first-class cabins, she said.

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