When pilot Butch Gorman takes over the controls of a 757, it's clear who's captain of the ship. A TWA pilot who now works for American Airlines, Gorman has the swagger one would expect of a former Marine helicopter gunner who served in Vietnam. At about 6-foot-2 and more than 200 pounds, he's not only an imposing figure but loud and boisterous -- just the kind of guy to make a lasting impression. He certainly made one on flight attendant Maria Chiefari.
Chiefari, a slender, dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty from Portugal, lives in Belleville with her husband and three children. In 1999, she was delighted when TWA offered her a flight-attendant job.
While still a probationary employee, Chiefari, 37, was scheduled to work a late-afternoon flight from St. Louis to Baltimore on June 26, 2000. She and the rest of the crew would spend the night at an Embassy Suites near Baltimore/Washington International Airport, then work a flight from Baltimore back to St. Louis early the next morning. Chiefari didn't know any of the more senior crew members working the flight, and she didn't have a chance to meet their captain, Gorman, until they landed in Baltimore around 5 p.m. and got together as a group to wait for the hotel bus.
"What have we got here, a hot-blooded Portuguese?" Chiefari claims Gorman said when he noticed the Portuguese flag pinned to her lapel. Then, as she climbed the bus steps, Chiefari alleges that Gorman, who was standing behind her, reached up and grabbed her crotch. Chiefari says she ordered Gorman to stop but that other crew members didn't act too shocked. Chiefari says her in-flight supervisor, Rachelle Todd, excused Gorman's behavior, saying that the pilot "just needed to eat."
After they checked in at the Embassy Suites, the crew planned to celebrate Todd's birthday by going to her favorite seafood restaurant. Although she had originally agreed to go, Chiefari says she was having second thoughts about being around Gorman. But when Todd called Chiefari in her room and asked her to come along, she relented and agreed to meet them downstairs in the hotel bar.
Gorman, clad in a black T-shirt with a red "TWA" emblazoned across his chest, was already down in the bar, and, according to the bartender working that night, he was "extremely rude and obnoxious." The bartender, who asked that his name not be published, says that after he served Gorman two glasses of wine, the pilot fell "over backward in the chair." The bartender helped Gorman up from the ground and told the pilot to "knock this off or I'm gonna have to cut you off." He gave Gorman a third glass of wine but then refused to serve the "boisterous" pilot any more alcohol. The bartender told the Riverfront Times that Gorman appeared to have had too much to drink but that a "man of that size, his body weight and his structure and his build -- three glasses of wine shouldn't have done that to him."
The boorish behavior didn't subside when Chiefari arrived. When he spotted her, Chiefari claims, Gorman grabbed the zipper of his pants and said, "Isn't it a shame that half of it goes to waste?"
Although the bartender didn't hear the conversation between pilot and flight attendant, he said it was clear that Gorman was "extremely interested" in Chiefari and that it was equally clear she wasn't interested in him. He "was trying to get very close to her, and she was backing away from him," the bartender says. "He was a pig about it."
Rather than fend off Gorman, Chiefari chose to go outside and wait for the shuttle bus that was scheduled to take them to the restaurant. And when she got on board, she made sure she was sitting far from Gorman. He chose a seat in the front, behind the driver. She opted for a seat across the aisle, in the second-to-last row. Chiefari says she avoided eye contact with the pilot by looking out the window -- unfortunately, it prevented her from seeing him walk down the aisle toward her. Without warning, Gorman shoved his right forearm under her chin and against her neck, knocking her head against the windowpane. His left fist was jammed between her legs, pinning her against the seat and making it impossible to escape his alcohol-laced breath and his tongue licking her face, she later said in a sworn statement.
The driver stopped the bus, and, along with the first officer, pulled Gorman off the woman, who now had lipstick smeared all over her face. When the bus arrived at the restaurant, Chiefari headed straight for the women's bathroom to clean herself up and calm herself down. Instead of rejoining the group when she was done, Chiefari walked out of the restaurant and hoped to return to the hotel -- but the bus was gone, so she had to walk. The first officer, whom Chiefari describes as "very gentlemanlike," noticed her hasty exit and joined her to make sure she was all right. As they trekked down the road, it started raining. Eventually a man driving past saw the bedraggled pair, took pity on them and gave them a lift back to the hotel.
But Chiefari says that when they returned, the rest of the flight crew was also back. The restaurant had refused to serve the group. In addition, the story of what happened on the bus between Gorman and Chiefari had already made its rounds with the staff at Embassy Suites. Because Gorman was in the lobby, Chiefari says, the staff told her to hide in the gift shop until he left.
Gladys Anderson was working in the gift shop that night. Anderson remembers Chiefari. "She was really upset; she was shaking," Anderson tells the Riverfront Times. Chiefari hid behind Anderson's desk and recounted the evening's events. Anderson adds that the bus driver and bartender later confirmed Chiefari's story. According to Anderson, Chiefari was only in the gift shop for about 15 minutes and left as soon as it was safe for her to go up to her room.
But even after going up to her room, locking the door and barricading it with furniture, she couldn't escape Gorman's presence: She says he walked down the hallway singing, "I just met a girl named Maria."
Gorman also continued vexing the staff, the bartender says. Although Gorman didn't return to the bar, he did go to the hotel restaurant, and a short while later, the night service manager came looking for the bartender. "The night guest-service manager asked me how much liquor [Gorman] had consumed because he had thrown a plate of salad against the wall, over a railing" in the restaurant.
The next morning, the crew arrived at BWI Airport at 5:15. According to Chiefari, Rachelle Todd told the crew that either they all had to complain about Gorman to TWA management or that no one would complain. Chiefari says she decided not to, concerned that ultimately her reputation would be questioned.
Even though the flight crew didn't tell management about Gorman, Embassy Suites did. After Chiefari returned to St. Louis, she says, her immediate supervisor called her at home and said she needed to talk to Chiefari about what had happened at the hotel. Pam Curd, a TWA representative, later asked Chiefari to make a written statement about the incident, she claims. But Chiefari says that when she turned her statement in, Curd highlighted the references to alcohol and indicated that they needed to be removed -- including them would only mean that Gorman would be sent for alcohol treatment. Chiefari complied with the request and redacted her statement. TWA sent her to counseling and, she says, suggested she meet with Gorman and his wife in person so that he could apologize. Chiefari refused.
The Embassy Suites bartender says a captain's-inquiry panel from TWA interviewed him twice about the incident, but Chiefari says they didn't take any further action. So on Dec. 21, 2000, Chiefari filed a sexual-harassment charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Human Rights Commission. But now the charge is languishing with the EEOC. TWA's bankruptcy filing in January 2001 means that litigation against them is stayed, and American Airlines, which completed its takeover of TWA in April, isn't touching the case with a 10-foot pole.
Julia Bishop-Cross, formerly a TWA spokeswoman and now an American Airlines spokeswoman, asked for a copy of the EEOC charge when she was contacted by the Riverfront Times for comment. But after a copy was faxed to her, Bishop-Cross didn't return our phone calls.
Shortly after the incident, the Baltimore Embassy Suites didn't renew its contract with TWA. Chris Gotti, the hotel manager, confirms that the hotel has "not had a contract for quite a long time with TWA" but refuses to say why.
Chiefari received a furlough notice from American Airlines on Jan. 2, which means she'll be laid off on Jan. 30.
Butch Gorman is still flying for TWA. When the Riverfront Times caught up with him, he refused to comment on the accusations but offered one suggestion: "Maybe you should write some stories on how we can make our society better after what happened on Sept. 11 instead of this kind of stuff."