Qantas says it is willing to help one of its cabin crew members take defamation action against pop star will.i.am if he does not retract his accusation she racially discriminated against him.
The Black Eyed Peas frontman published a photo and full name of the Qantas cabin crew member on Twitter to his 12.8 million followers on Saturday and accused her of being a “#RacistFlightattendant” following a dispute about stowing his laptop prior to a flight landing in Sydney.
Australian Federal Police officers were waiting to meet the singer when he disembarked the flight from Brisbane.
Qantas said there had been “misunderstanding” made worse by will.i.am wearing noise-cancelling headphones and not being able to hear instructions from crew.
A spokesman for the airline said it investigated will.i.am’s complaint and could not substantiate any of the claims made.
The Qantas spokesman said on Monday that the company had contacted will.i.am’s management to ask that he retract his public statements about the staff member.
I’m currently on a flight from Brisbane to Sydney.
I’m sorry to say me and my group have experienced they worse service due to a overly aggressive flight attendant…
I don’t want to believe she racist.
But she has clearly aimed all her frustrations only at the people of colour
— will.i.am (@iamwill)
November 16, 2019
“Absent a retraction, and if the crew member wanted to take the matter further, we’d certainly be willing to provide legal support for them to do this,” the spokesman said.
Lawyer Bruce McClintock, SC, who recently represented actor Geoffrey Rush, said the Qantas employee had a “very good” defamation claim that could attract a “substantial” payout.
“Absolutely no question about it – it’s defamatory. The tweet is a publication and its effect is damaging to the person it’s said about,” he said.
“If it were not true (that the flight attendant acted in a racist way), the flight attendant would have a very good claim.”
Mr McClintock said the entertainer’s large social media following and decision to tweet the full name of the flight attendant, prompting some of his fans to flood her Facebook profile with abuse, made the case more serious.
Maurice Blackburn principal workplace lawyer Josh Bornstein said any legal options stemming from the incident would depend on whose version of the event was correct.
He said the flight attendant could theoretically sue for defamation, but that defamation law is extremely expensive, complex and stressful.
“The staff member in question may explore that but may also decide that it’s not worth the grief and the cost,” Mr Bornstein said, adding that Qantas had an obligation to provide a safe workplace and support staff who were under pressure or public attack.
In a series of tweets on Saturday, will.i.am said the cabin crew member was “beyond rude” and that she “singled every person of [colour in] the flight and gave them a hard time.. and went to the extreme of calling the police on me when I did nothing wrong”.
Crew members cannot call police from the cabin of Australian aircraft, but can notify the plane’s captain about disturbances on board. The captain can ask Australia Federal Police to meet the aircraft when it lands.
Flight Attendants Association of Australia secretary Teri O’Toole said it was “outrageous” that cabin crew were being publicly vilified just for doing their jobs.
“Cabin crew are aviation’s first responders – we’re there for emergency requirements, to protect and save the lives of passengers,” Ms O’Toole said.
“People who fly a lot should understand there are requirements and the fact that people are still fighting with us over those – I can’t explain it.”
Ms O’Toole said a loose, hard object like a laptop could become airborne and hurt or kill someone during a rough landing.
She said that both Qantas’ conditions of carriage and Civil Aviation Safety Authority rules say passengers must follow cabin crew’s instructions.
Responding to criticism on social media that he should not have publicly named the employee, will.i.am said that he would also be named and shamed if he was rude to a fan or a journalist.
“This is what Twitter is for… we are supposed to call out wrongdoings so we can have a safer more compassionate world,” he said.
However, he said he was “saddened that people chose to spread hate and attack” the woman.