July 9, 2013 -- An American Airlines flight attendant whose co-workers accused her of smuggling her pet rats onto aircraft in her underwear and pantyhose is suing the airline.
A lawsuit filed last month in a New York court claims that Louann Giambattista, 55, a flight attendant with American Airlines since 1979, was "outrageously discriminated against" because of a "perceived mental disability" resulting in a "hostile work environment."
The suit is filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Her attorney, Steven Morelli, said his client is not mentally disabled but rather being discriminated against because of the perception of a mental disability, which he said the disabilities act covers. He denies that she brought rats onboard flights.
The lawsuit says that two flight attendants made claims to the airline in February 2012 that Giambattista was bringing her concealed pet rats onto work flights. As a result, the lawsuit alleges, Giambattista was subject to detentions and interrogations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when she worked international flights.
On one occasion, Giambattista was allegedly threatened by ICE agents with an "embarrassing" strip search and interrogated in front of several co-workers, according to the suit.
One of the flight attendants who made an allegation regarding the rat told Giambattista she believed Giambattista fed her pet rats on a flight because Giambattista ate a dinner roll out of a cup, according to the suit. But the suit said she ate out of a cup to not appear unprofessional by eating in front of the passengers.
Morelli said Giambattista did at one time have a pet rat that she talked openly about. "That doesn't mean she's some loony tune who brings it on a plane with her," he said.
The lawsuit, which asks for at least $150,000, said Giambattista suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the repeated customs' interrogations, and that American had her passport flagged for illegal transportation of animals, resulting in the flight attendant's being subject to searches every time she passed through customs enforcement.
A request she made to work only domestic flights was denied, the lawsuit says. Her "anxiety and fear" over searches caused Giambattista to call in sick and take unpaid personal leaves.
She was detained at least four times, according to the suit. The flag was removed in April 2013. Morelli said the timing coincided with a a "right to sue" order his client was granted in March.
"Every time she came into an airport they basically stripped her," Morelli said. "If she had had a rat on her, they would have found it. They never did. Enough already."
American Airlines declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Giambattista still works for the company, flying a normal schedule.