A New York flight attendant accused of stowing pet rats in her underwear says her colleagues were telling tales.
Louann Giambattista, 55, of Nassau County, Long Island, is suing American Airlines for exploiting the perception that she was mentally ill through false claims that she carried pet rats onboard.
The complaints led to Giambattista being detained and harassed by homeland security agents every time she entered the United States, according to the lawsuit obtained by The Huffington Post. The pattern of security-checkpoint grilling and American Airlines' alleged refusal to transfer her caused her to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, "including debilitating fear," the suit contends.
"She's an animal lover, but she doesn't bring them on planes," her attorney, Steven Morelli, told HuffPost on Monday.
The suit alleges the problems began when two flight attendants complained to the airline on two separate occasions in February 2012, saying Giambattista snuck vermin onto the plane. One even asserted that she fed one of her rodent stowaways, the suit states.
A pilot allegedly bolstered those claims by saying he felt a small animal in her pocket as he helped her out of a van.
As the interrogations escalated, the airline refused to ask authorities to remove the flag from her passport and never investigated the claims of the flight attendants, the suit asserts. Immigration and Customs Enforcement never found evidence that Giambattista had the rats with her, according to the document.
Security searches of Giambattista have stopped since the airline received notice of Giambattista's intent to sue in April, Morelli said, but nearly two years of damage of have been done.
American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Giambattista seeks at least $150,000 for discrimination and for wages lost when her international flying schedule had to be curtailed, according to papers filed June 26 in U.S. District Court.
The flight attendant, who is based out of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, currently works three international routes a week, Morelli said.