Friday, February 17, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Woman Pilot Files Sex-Harassment Suit Against Continental

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SEATTLE RESIDENT Tammy Blakey's dream was to be a pilot. Instead of living her dream, the first female captain at Continental Airlines has taken unpaid leave as she fights a legal battle to rid the company's cockpits of pornographic photos.

Something fluttered out of a booklet and dropped to the floor of a Continental airliner flying from New York to Seattle one day in 1991. Tammy Blakey says she looked down at a photo of a nude woman in a sexually explicit pose.

The photo might have disturbed any passenger, but Capt. Tammy Blakey happened to be piloting the plane at the time.

That was one of the early affronts she endured as a Continental pilot in the early 1990s, she said. It was followed by pornographic photos tucked into flight manuals, pasted to the backs of clipboards, cached in metal document drawers.

"I couldn't believe they'd allow this kind of disgusting material aboard an airplane," Blakey said this week from her home in Seattle.

"I became the enemy"

According to a sexual-harassment lawsuit Blakey has filed against Continental Airlines, pornography was a common flight hazard in the cockpits of airliners.

The people who planted the pornography, the suit claims, were Blakey's fellow pilots and flight officers - men she describes as "good old boys." Blakey said she apparently stumbled upon a tradition of leaving pornography for the amusement of incoming crews.

But Blakey was not amused. When she complained to the airline's management, she said, male crew members retaliated by scrawling sexually explicit messages on pornographic photos and leaving them in the cockpit. Later, she said, Continental began to question her competence, forcing her to see a psychiatrist and undergo flight tests.

"I became the enemy," said Blakey, the first female captain of a Continental Airbus A300.

Her lawsuit, filed in Newark in March, also accuses Continental of failing to enforce its written policy forbidding sexual harassment aboard its airliners.

A spokeswoman at Continental's corporate headquarters in Houston said company policy prevented her from commenting on a pending lawsuit.

Asked for comment yesterday, Robert Bernstein, a Newark lawyer handling the lawsuit for Continental, said: "I'm not going to speak to you at all."

"No one took this seriously," said Blakey's lawyer, Linda Kenney, who made documents available this week. "It's almost as if this is something you should just put up with if you're a captain in a jetliner because you're entering a man's world."

Other pilots complain

In an affidavit, a male Continental pilot accused Blakey of planting an obscene cartoon in the cockpit after she failed to find any pornography during a pre-flight check in 1993.

Other female pilots on Continental flights have said in depositions that they had seen pornography in the cockpit.

Julia Sprague Hilsen testified that, on a Continental flight from Denver to San Francisco in September, a pornographic photo fell on her from an overhead compartment - as she was trying to land the plane.

Asked her reaction, Hilsen replied in the deposition: "Well, I couldn't react to the material. I was landing the airplane at the time."

Another pilot, Lynn Rippelmeyer, testified that she often found pornography in Continental cockpits.

"When you do your cockpit check, and you open little doors or tables, they're (pornographic photos) usually there," Rippelmeyer said. "Or maybe on the back of the logbook cover or inside the flight engineer's table."

Examples Blakey cited in her suit included these:

-- Across a photo of a woman's nude buttocks was printed "Tammy Blakey."

-- A photo of a nude woman bent over a sofa contained the messages "Hi Tammy" and "group negotiating position."

-- Other photos bore obscene messages, including one that referred to Blakey and oral sex.

Blakey said other examples were even worse: "They made your stomach turn, they were so bad."

Blakey said she has been on voluntary unpaid leave from Continental since May 1993. She said the airline effectively grounded her that year. "I think they didn't want me to find any more pornography."

Company policy faces scrutiny

After female flight attendants complained about pornography to an airline vice president in 1992, the suit says, the company issued a bulletin outlining its policy against inappropriate materials aboard aircraft. In 1993, a similar bulletin was sent to Continental pilots.

But the suit contends that Continental did not enforce the policy.

In the pilots' lounge in Newark in January 1993, Blakey said, she found the pilot bulletin defaced with graffiti directed at her.

The incidents were particularly upsetting because she had always dreamed of being a pilot, said Blakey, 35. She started flying at age 16 and became a Continental pilot in 1987, 10 years after the airline hired its first female pilot.

"It was a goal for me to be a captain, and I worked very hard to get there," she said.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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