The Fair Work Commission has found that a Virgin Australia flight attendant who was fired for napping and watching a movie during a flight she was working on must be reinstated after determining that her dismissal was “harsh, unjust, and arbitrary.”
DeVania Blackburn was a senior flight attendant who had worked for Virgin Australia for 14 years. She was fired in July 2021 following an investigation into a series of charges against the long-serving crew member.
Among the claims levelled against Blackburn were that she took four packs of food supposed to be distributed on flights, was late for work, and violated Virgin Australia’s strict uniform rules by not wearing cosmetics or stockings.
All complaints were made within one month in early 2021, immediately after Blackburn returned to work after a lengthy pandemic absence and sick leave.
On her return to work, Blackburn was required to work as a supernumerary crew member on a flight to watch other crew members and familiarize herself with the aircraft on January 31, 2021. The supernumerary crew are not part of the legally needed minimum crew and is not in charge of any designated doors.
Other flight attendants reported Blackburn for sitting in a window seat in the last row of seats and watching a movie on her iPad during the flight. She also allegedly dozed off and refused to return to a crew seat before the plane touched down.
Despite her extended leave from work, Blackburn justified her attitude on the trip, claiming that after 14 years as a flight attendant, she was confident she still had a “strong knowledge” of the aircraft and the airline’s policies and procedures.
However, she denied viewing a movie and misappropriating onboard food by concealing it in her crew bag.
After a brief investigation, Blackburn was suspended and sacked in March 2021. She subsequently filed a claim with the Fair Work Commission, alleging Virgin Australia of unfair dismissal based on a lack of procedural fairness.
Blackburn accused the airline in a witness statement of attempting to establish the complaint against her without first asking her direct questions about the claims.
When the airline determined that Blackburn had misappropriated food, it reasoned that she couldn’t have eaten that many snacks on the flight, but she told the commission, “not once have I been questioned how many did I eat.”
“After flight duty, I was never asked whether I had any goods from the plane, nor was I asked what was in my crew bag.” I have freely stated my acts and the reasons for them. “However, assumptions were made in order to create these claims,” Blackburn said.
She also denied claims that she did not fulfil Virgin Australia’s grooming standards.
“My grooming requirements were exceeded with my nails being properly SNS red, my make-up including nude tones, and my staple technique being bronzer, mascara, and lip gloss,” she stated. “My hair had just been straightened and styled up to LookBook specifications.”
The panel ruled that her dismissal was “harsh, unjust, and irrational” but agreed that Blackburn contributed to her condition by “belligerently”, relying on her own experience rather than following processes and policies.
Blackburn will be allowed to return to work in August 2022, but the commission will not force Virgin Australia to refund her missed wages during her absence.