A skycap who was allegedly fired for demanding a tip may in fact have been terminated at his company owner's suggestion because he had been recruiting co-workers to join him in a lawsuit against the firm, says an appellate court in reversing a lower court ruling dismissing the case.
Joseph Travers “by all accounts” acted “as the leader among the plaintiffs, encouraging others to join” him in a purported class action lawsuit charging his employer, Cleveland-based Flight Services & Systems Inc., and Long Island City, N.Y. based JetBlue Airways Corp. with violating the Fair Labor Standards Act,, according to Thursday's ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in Joseph Travers v. Flight Services & Systems Inc.
Former supervisor Robert Nichols reported that after Mr. Travers filed the suit, Flight Services CEO Robert Weitzel Sr., “repeatedly yelled at Nichols 'to get rid of Travers'” and to talk him into dropping the lawsuit.
Mr. Travers was fired by the company in September 2010, 3˝ weeks after a JetBlue passenger complained he had solicited a tip, allegedly because he had violated company policy.
Mr. Travers filed suit, claiming his termination had in fact been in retaliation for the FLSA lawsuit. A Boston-based federal court dismissed the charges.
Owner's comments at issue
However, a unanimous three-judge panel pointed to Mr. Weitzel's comments. “A rational juror could conclude that such strongly held and repeatedly voiced wishes of the king, so to speak, likely become well known to those courtiers who might rid him of a bothersome underling.”
“A CEO sets the tone and mission for his subordinates, many of whom presumably consider it an important part of their jobs to figure out and deliver what the CEO wants. This CEO, we must assume, bristled so fiercely that he expressly and repeatedly demanded that Travers be fired,” said the ruling.
Furthermore, at least one of Mr. Travers’ co-workers “was also accused by an apparently unbiased third party of soliciting tips, yet remains employed,” said the appellate court, in remanding the case for further proceedings.