By Cailey Rizzo
July 18, 2018

Delta fired four employees because they were “violating ticketing and fare rules” by giving out free upgrades.

Ji-Won Kim, Lilian Park, Jean Yi and Jongjin An were desk and gate agents for Delta at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport until they were fired in December 2017.

The four women claim in a lawsuit that they were discriminated against for speaking Korean at work, even though they were hired for their ability to do so and often worked with passengers flying between Seattle and Seoul, KIRO 7 reported. The lawsuit also alleges that the women were targeted after reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Offering free upgrades, especially on an oversold flight, is a common practice,” Kim told KIRO 7. “But suddenly, it became a reason to be terminated.”

According to the lawsuit, the four women who were all born in Korea, were told to “limit speaking Korean” as it made non-Korean-speaking employees uncomfortable. The women say that no other foreign-language-speaking employees were given the same instructions.

“We take allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination very seriously and our investigations into allegations made by these former employees were found to be without merit,” a Delta spokesperson said in a statement. “These former employees were unfortunately but appropriately terminated because the company determined they violated ticketing and fare rules. Delta is confident that these claims will ultimately be determined to be without merit.”

Gate agents are under pressure to make flights leave on time, which means ensuring everybody has a seat. When main cabin seats are oversold, airlines will issue “operational upgrades” to select passengers. The upgrades are decided mostly via algorithm but gate agents may select random passengers to move up when they are in a rush. Factors at play include a passenger’s elite status, previous ticket purchases, and type of ticket purchased.