Jury backs airline accused of defamation

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A jury deliberated for only a few hours Thursday before deciding in favor of Era Aviation and an instructor accused of defaming a former ERA flight attendant. The attendant, Jolene Kearns, accused Era instructor Cheri Craig of defaming her by allegedly calling her a slut and mentioning her name when describing improper flight attendant behavior.

The trial lasted four days in U.S. District Court and consisted of testimony by current and former Era employees who participated in the 1997 flight attendant class taught by Craig, then director of Era's in-flight services.

The suit filed by Kearns, now living in California, alleged that Craig defamed her when she attached Kearns' name to false rumors made during a training class.

The statements damaged her reputation, argued Chip McElhany, Kearns' attorney. At the time of the class, Kearns was not an Era employee. She worked for the company from 1996 to early 1997. She still works in the airline industry.

Craig testified that during the 1997 class, she used rumors about Kearns as one of many examples of inappropriate flight attendant behavior. She didn't use Kearns' name, she testified, and didn't call her a slut or use the term ''slutting around,'' as Kearns' attorney suggested.

Craig was originally named in the suit, but Kearns agreed to dismiss her as a defendant.

Four witnesses called by Era during the trial said they didn't remember Craig saying anything about Kearns. Some said they did remember Craig warning them not to date pilots or drink before going to work.

But three others in the class testified that they heard defamatory remarks about Kearns by Craig.

Brewster Jamieson, Era's attorney, argued that the three women's testimony was inconsistent and noted that each of them has also sued Era. He said their statements were ''clouded by bias.''

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