Southwest CEO on lesbian actress’ removal from flight: ‘We’re not trying to dictate social norms’

Gary Kelly, CEO of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, is standing behind an SWA flight crew’s decision to remove lesbian actress Leisha Hailey and her partner from a plane on Monday after they were observed kissing.

After Hailey, who starred in The L-Word and is a member of the band Uh Huh Her, called for a boycott of the airline on Twitter, SWA released a statement describing the kissing as “excessive.”

Hailey responded with a statement saying it was “one, modest kiss,” before the airline issued a follow-up saying the couple was removed from the flight during a stop in El Paso due to their “aggressive reaction,” including loud use of “profane language.”

Hailey’s publicist tells Instant Tea that the actress isn’t doing interviews about the incident, but Kelly (pictured) discussed it with The Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.

“We’re not trying to dictate social norms,” Kelly told the Chronicle. “Any of us have boundaries that we think people should behave within. …

“I think our people try very hard to accommodate the needs and the wishes of our customers, and they make judgments of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate,” Kelly said. “In all cases, we do the best we can to take care of our customers and if we can’t get them where they need to go, obviously we’re apologetic for that. … 

“It’s very difficult to script out exactly how one should deal with any particular circumstance.”

—  John Wright

EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: Southwest CEO Gary Kelly says pilot won’t be fired for offensive rant


Gary Kelly

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said in a recorded message to employees Thursday that the company doesn’t plan to revisit disciplinary action taken against a pilot whose anti-gay, misogynistic rant was captured over an open cockpit microphone in March.

Instant Tea has obtained a recording (above) of Kelly’s six-minute message posted on Newsline, a phone service for Southwest employees. In the message, Kelly said he had not been aware of the incident until the news media reported on it this week. Although some feel the pilot should be fired, Kelly said it’s too late to revisit disciplinary action that was taken against him in April, which consisted of a reprimand, a suspension and diversity training.

“People have opined that this employee should have been, or should now be fired, and let me just say that reasonable people that are fully acquainted with all of the facts could disagree on whether the severity of this discipline was sufficient for the obvious bad behavior,” Kelly said in the message. “And be that as it may, the matter was resolved already legally, and it would serve no purpose to reopen that now, even if we could. And I know that many of you do not like that decision. While there will be a complete and thorough review with management of this entire episode, it is important to understand that the discipline was rendered in April, and it cannot be reversed.”

Instant Tea also obtained a copy of a memo to employees from Jeff Lamb, Southwest’s senior vice president of administration and chief people officer. In the memo, Lamb lays out steps the company will take in the wake of the incident:

• Gary has asked me to work with our Labor Employment Group, under the Leadership of General Counsel, to investigate whether the attitudes that were communicated are an isolated instance or if we have a wider issue with lack of sensitivity in our workplace.

• We are changing the procedures used to consider and administer discipline under our Equal Employment Opportunity policies. All similar situations must go through Employee Relations and will be reviewed by General Counsel prior to discipline being administered.

• I am reviewing our Diversity training requirements for all Employees, not just Leaders. I am proud of the many efforts that we already have in place to promote, protect, and celebrate our diverse workforce, including the “Matter of Respect” training through the U4P and our Diversity Council. However, we must take it up a notch and continue to raise awareness that disparagement in any setting will not be tolerated.

—  John Wright

Joel Burns nominated for Texan of the Year

Joel Burns

Gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns has been nominated for The Dallas Morning News’ Texan of the Year based on his inspiring “It Gets Better” speech, according to DMN editorial writer Rodger Jones.

Burns has already been interviewed by national media and by Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show in the wake of his 12-minute speech at a council meeting last month in which he talked about being bullied as a teenager and the time he considered taking his own life. Video of the speech quickly went viral and Burns became one of the most visible faces of the “It Gets Better” campaign.

Some of the other nominees are Southwest Airlines President Gary Kelly, philanthropist Elizabeth Shatto Massey, Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan and, a separate nominee, the “entire Texas Rangers baseball team.”

Well, win or lose, I love me some Texas Rangers. But when it comes to Texan of the Year, Joel gets my vote.

—  admin