Flight Attendants vs Fashion: How A Uniform Crisis Took A Million Dollar Turn

Photo of four diverse flight attendants (two women and two men) of American Airlines celebrating outside a courtroom.

1. A Bitter Twist to New Uniforms In 2016, veteran flight attendant Tracey Silver-Charan never anticipated that her newly introduced American Airlines uniform would lead to severe health concerns. Having been with the airline for over 37 years, it was just another attire change. However, soon after donning the new apparel, she began experiencing significant respiratory distress and rashes.

Source: WP : After becoming ill, Silver-Charan noticed worsening skin symptoms and respiratory issues. (Tracey Silver-Charan)

2. The Chemical Culprit Behind the Uniforms A lawsuit later unearthed a startling revelation: the uniforms were treated with formaldehyde. This chemical, commonly used to keep fabrics wrinkle-free, was applied to the cotton blouses during their production in a Chinese fabric mill. As many as 425 American Airlines employees alleged that this was the root cause of their health issues. This claim led to a Californian jury awarding over $1 million to four of these plaintiffs against uniform manufacturer Twin Hill.

3. Airline Uniforms: A History of Controversies The lawsuit against Twin Hill isn’t an isolated incident. Over the past decade, numerous flight attendants have taken uniform suppliers to court. The issue lies with the chemicals in clothing, especially when worn for extended periods. Flight attendants, who often don these uniforms for hours and work in close quarters, find themselves at a heightened risk.

Photo of four diverse flight attendants (two women and two men) of American Airlines celebrating outside a courtroom. The women are East Asian.

4. Previous Brushes with Legal Battles Twin Hill wasn’t new to such allegations. In 2013, Alaska Airlines’ flight attendants raised similar complaints about uniforms causing rashes, eye irritations, and more. While Twin Hill emerged victorious in that case, their recent legal tussle indicates a changing tide.

5. The Significance of the Recent Verdict The latest verdict against Twin Hill is not just about compensation but also the potential implications it holds. It could pave the way for future settlements or spur more lawsuits. Daniel Balaban, the lead attorney representing the affected employees, stressed on the defective nature of the uniforms and the harm they caused.

Illustration in a simple and flat style depicting a symbolic courtroom scene. Four flight attendants in American Airlines uniforms.

6. Lasting Health Effects and Career Impact Beyond just the physical symptoms, the ordeal has had profound implications for many flight attendants’ careers. Brenda Sabbatino, who received the largest sum of $750,000, had to opt for medical leave and early retirement due to developed sensitivities to various chemicals.

7. The Shift in Industry Standards American Airlines’ decision to switch uniform suppliers in 2020 to Lands’ End signals a broader trend in the airline industry to prioritize employee health. The industry’s openness to revisiting uniform choices offers hope for a safer working environment for flight attendants in the future.

8. Conclusion: The Road Ahead While the Twin Hill incident serves as a cautionary tale, it also sheds light on the pressing need for more stringent regulations around clothing chemicals. As flight attendants continue to work tirelessly, ensuring their uniforms are safe becomes paramount.

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