Two young women who worked for Delta Airlines and a cargo firm at Kennedy Airport say in a lawsuit filed Thursday their bosses spurned their complaints about a male supervisor who masturbated at his desk in their presence and fired them for complaining about it.
Kayla Jenkins, who worked for Delta, and Lauren Heffernan, who worked for a Delta affiliate, Alliance Ground International, were both hired in 2015 as back office cargo agents to deal with freight shipments. The companies assigned a 25-year veteran employee, Mike Keve, to serve as their "mentor" to train them.
Their lawyer Brian Heller says in court papers that in February of last year, Jenkins was sitting next to Keve at her computer when she noticed that he had stopped typing.
When she "turned her head slightly to see what Keve was doing... (she) saw Keve sitting at his desk with his penis out." "Horrified," she turned back to her desk and didn't look at him again that day.
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"Fearful of reporting Keve's repulsive conduct to management," Jenkins, 19, texted a female coworker, Heffernan, 29, who also thought she had seen Keve do the same thing, according to court papers.
The next day, when Heffernan reported the incidents to a boss, she was told that Delta "was already aware that Keve had been masturbating in the office" and didn't intend to do anything about it for fear that Keve, 56, of Massapequa, would lose his job, court papers say.
Another boss told her that he couldn't do anything about it because Jenkins had not complained to him directly.
Heller said that it's "unthinkable" that something like this could happen at Delta today.
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"This is something you'd think was a relic of things that used to be," he said.
Heller, a labor lawyer, said his clients' experience is more shocking because an intermediate supervisor confirmed in a text that management was aware of Keve's actions and would take no action.
"This was a group of men who all knew each other for a long time. At a certain point, their loyalty to each other trumped their obligations under the Human Rights Law. It was more important to protect a friend than to protect the women," he said.
In fact, court papers say, managers even joked about Keve's behavior in front of the women, who both come from Queens.
Court papers say Jenkins started to report the sexual harassment in March 2016, but was advised to keep quiet. She was abruptly fired in May when her bosses complained that her schoolwork was preventing her from working enough hours.
A week later, court papers say, Keve masturbated again at his desk in front of Heffernan. Her second complaint triggered an internal investigation that resulted in Heffernan's dismissal after she was late returning to work after lunch because her car broke down.
Each woman is asking for $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Delta issued a statement saying the "investigation into this allegation resulted in the termination of two employees." However, airline spokeswoman Ashton Morrow said she could not say if Keve was one of them.
The statement also said that the two young women "were legitimately terminated for reasons completely unrelated to any allegations of misconduct by others."
"Delta takes allegations of inappropriate conduct very seriously. We promptly investigate and take appropriate action when issues of this nature are brought to our attention," the statement said.
Keve could not be reached.Send a Letter to the Editor