Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why You Should Not Fly Continental Airlines: Company Unfairly Terminates Lisa Elzey, Utah Single Mother Of 22 Who Cannot Get Unemployment Compensation

The Deseret News reports that another corporate predator has victimized one of its workers. Lisa Elzey, a mother of 22 children living in Bluffdale, Utah, was unfairly terminated by Continental Airlines, and because of a technicality in Utah child care law, cannot receive unemployment compensation.

Background: Lisa Elzey worked for Continental Airlines for 10 years, most recently out of her home booking reservations for Continental frequent fliers who have earned an "Elite" status. She was part of the company's "Elite Fleet" of the top 2 percent of sales, and had never been written up or had a spot on her record.

The Problem: Elzey was abruptly suspended from her job on October 5th, 2009 for abusing company policy because Continental Airlines believed she financially benefited from using the shipping discount the company grants to employees to ship various dogs she was selling across the country. Elzey breeds dogs as a hobby after she heard they were good therapy for special needs kids. But Elzey claims she made no profit from using her shipping discount for this purpose, saying "If I have a puppy and I get a discount on shipping, but if I pay $50 to ship and I charge you $50 in shipping, how have I profited?" Nevertheless, Elzey offered to pay back the $1,500 discount she got for shipping the dogs, and she even flew to Continental's headquarters in Houston to appeal the decision. No soap - she received a final notice of termination on December 17th.

The Abuse: Elzey was not given a warning and an opportunity to reimburse the company as an alternative; instead, the company chose to presume malice on her part and gave her the axe. While this is legal, since she was an at-will employee, it is certainly an unfair termination, and is symbolic of the cavalier, exploitative treatment corporations dish out to employees nowadays. Yet these corporations pay executives windfall salaries and bonuses, and beg for tax breaks and bailout funds.

The Impact: As a result of her termination, Lisa Elzey does not receive severance, retirement benefits or the 200 unused vacation passes she had accrued. And she cannot get unemployment compensation - not because of her termination, but because of a requirement that states child care must be in place for her to work full time. The spina bifida condition of one of her kids, Alexa, prevents her from being transported by a vehicle, so Elzey cannot guarantee child care. Thus no unemployment.

Why is she a single mom with 22 kids? Actually, Elzey was once married, but was divorced. But she's always had a special place in her heart for kids. Of her 22 kids, 17 are adopted and eight have special needs. Sixteen of the kids still live at home with her. She began adopting kids a decade ago, before her divorce. The eight special needs children have a variety of disabilities, including spina bifida, sickle cell anemia, cerebral palsy, autism, a shaken baby and three with Down syndrome. She has the time and space to care for them, and they are all reportedly doing well. Extended family members help; Elzey lives on a one-acre property in Bluffdale, where her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter live in a studio apartment out back and her retired parents live in a mother-in-law apartment downstairs. So Lisa Elzey is not someone who is irresponsible by nature.

Naturally, the corporation hid behind "confidentiality". Mary Clark, a spokeswoman with Continental Airlines, declined comment. But Continental Airlines also abuses passengers, and the stranding by Continental Airlines' Houston-based Continental regional affiliate, ExpressJet, of 51 passengers for six hours in Rochester, Minn., this summer was the last straw that provoked a Department of Transportation mandate to require airlines to allow passengers stuck on grounded planes for more than three hours to return to the terminal. It also requires the airlines to provide food, water and working restrooms for delays of more than two hours.

Continental's arbitrary action was a nasty way to reward a woman who has opened up her heart and house to so many kids who might not have had a chance otherwise. I will strike Continental Airlines off my patronage list until they do the right thing and at least give her severance pay and her retirement benefits, even if they can't give her back her job. They can take it out of the salary of the CEO.


Anonymous said...

Yes it is sad that Ms. Elzey lost her job but she is not the first employee Continental has terminated for this exact same abuse of it's policy prohibiting employees using company discounts for private ventures. During my career with Continental I have seen management up to one level below vice president (including her own boss about 5 years ago) terminated for abusing company discounts.
I don't think it's fair to lump Continental in with other companies who have begged for government bailouts as Continental has never received any bailout dollars.
Especially during the last eight years which have been terrible to the airlines Continental has become less tolerant of such abuses. It's no secret, more so now that Continental has been furloughing employees and eliminating positions that if they see a reason to fire an employee they will not hesitate to do so. Ms. Elzey certainly knew she was violating Continental's policy and knew the risk she was taking. It gave her an advantage over other breeders who could not offer such discounted shipping as Ms. Elzey could.
I rarely side with Continental but I don't think it's fair for Ms. Elzey to cry foul when she knew she was violating company policy and willfully took the risks that action entailed.

Anonymous said...

Why is this woman knowingly violating a company policy with the financial responsibility of 22 children some of which are disabled? She gets fired and then runs to the media and blames her employer for her misconduct? The worse part about it is she offers up the children as bait for a sensational story and sympathy for her bad behavior. Says a lot about her character. BTW what is this state doing putting that many children in her home if she can't afford them and allowing her run a daycare in addition to that?