SCMP Saturday, March 10, 2001

'Model Cathay worker' sues airline for sex bias


A former winner of Cathay Pacific's model employee award is suing the airline for sex discrimination after it refused to transfer her back to flying duties.
Sangasri Promthee, 49, was sacked in August 1997 - a month after she was featured in the airline's Marco Polo magazine as a model employee.
The accolade came two months after her request to be transferred back to flying duties from ground services was turned down, according to a District Court writ.
Ms Promthee, from Thailand, started her 21-year career with Cathay Pacific in June 1976 as a flight attendant and was promoted to become a chief purser.
"I feel bad that I have had to go this far," Ms Promthee said yesterday after filing the writ.
She is seeking to be reemployed on flying duties, unspecified damages, and an interim order pending trial that Cathay Pacific pay her a monthly sum equivalent to her last salary.
Ms Promthee is the first to sue under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance for alleged refusal to afford a person access to opportunities for transfer.
Previous lawsuits against the airline have been directed at its former retirement policies which effectively forced female flight attendants to retire earlier than their male counterparts.
Ms Promthee was made a probationary lounge manager for Cathay Pacific at Kai Tak airport in September 1996. She did not pass her probation in May 1997.
She was instead offered the post of manager on duty, but declined and requested to be transferred back to flying duties as a chief purser on May 10, 1997 - five months before her 46th birthday.
Peter Buecking, then general manager of the in-flight services department, was said to have informed Ms Promthee that she could not be considered for such a transfer. He allegedly gave the reason that the airline's policy was "to allow females to work in flying duties only until 45 years of age and males until 55 years of age". That policy has since been abandoned.
Ms Promthee is seeking damages for "mental anguish and distress at being refused access to an opportunity for internal transfer which ended her flying career".
She is also claiming for loss of earnings since August 27, 1997.
Lawyers for the plaintiff further invited the court to infer that the airline's former policy was based on the premise that female staff aged over 45 were "no longer attractive" to its passengers.