Jury decides whether American Airlines should pay for flight attendant’s sexual assault
Jurors in a lawsuit brought by a former American Airlines flight attendant against the Fort Worth-based airline began deliberations Monday afternoon.
Kimberly Goesling, who worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years before retiring in December, claims she was sexually assaulted by celebrity chef Mark Sargeant during a work trip to Germany in 2018. In her lawsuit, she also says that American Airlines retaliated against her. after reporting the assault and removing her from her leadership position, as well as special projects.
Among the 13 questions the jury must answer in its deliberations, which began shortly before 1 p.m. Monday in a Tarrant County courtroom, are whether Sargeant assaulted Goesling, whether former American Airlines executive Brett Hooyerink was acting as the company’s deputy director on the trip and if the airline took part in Goesling’s assault through Hooyerink, who Sargeant testified drank with him and encouraged him to pursue Goesling.
Goesling’s attorneys are seeking more than $25.6 million to cover medical costs and damages.
“It’s real,” said his lawyer, Robert Miller. “Goesling is going to have to live with this for the rest of his life.”
Miller told jurors the assault was “inevitable”, based on Sargeant’s text messages to Goesling. He also said Goesling’s account remained consistent, even though defense attorneys argued his story was inconsistent.
Testimony showed that Hooyerink was the person the employees introduced themselves to on the business trip to Germany, Miller said, and text messages Sargeant sent Goesling after the assault show, he told him that he had been encouraged to come up to his room by people he was with, later revealed to be Hooyerink and fellow employee, Ashley Kerber. Miller played excerpts from Sargeant’s testimony where the chief said he was not interested in Goesling before Hooyerink and Kerber told him Goesling was interested in him.
Participating in or assisting with the assault did not mean Hooyerink had to be in the room when it happened, Miller said. He noted that there was evidence that Hooyerink was the one who gave Goesling’s room number to Sargeant.
American Airlines attorney Shauna Wright said that although the airline investigated and fired Sargeant, it was still in court.
Wright said the lawsuit was not about getting justice — it was about Goesling looking for money. If Goesling didn’t want something like this to happen again, Wright said, there would be a police report and she would go after Sargeant instead.
While the airline didn’t want to blame Goesling for the delay in reporting the assault, Wright said the delay left holes for direct evidence that could have come in the form of a 911 call, video from the hotel hallway or reception, or a rape exam.
Wright said it was “revealing” that Goesling called an attorney before contacting American about his assault.
American could not be blamed or required to pay for Sargeant’s actions, Wright said.
“If you feel like she’s almost at the finish line, that’s almost not enough,” Wright told the jury.
Abby Church, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TNS)