Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Delta Air Lines Inc. is accused in a lawsuit of using “stolen e-mails” from a consumer group as part of an effort to stem passenger-rights legislation in the U.S. Congress.
The suit from Kate Hanni, executive director of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston.
Hanni alleges that her e-mail account was hacked starting in 2008 and continuing into this year, according to a news release from the law firm handling her case. An employee of a Delta contractor said in an affidavit he was fired after his company confronted him over e-mails with Hanni. Delta was concerned the information would be used to enact passenger- rights legislation, according to the affidavit.
Hanni’s group, also known as FlyersRights.org, has been spearheading efforts to persuade Congress to pass legislation requiring airlines to let passengers off planes stuck on tarmacs after three hours. Airlines oppose the bill, saying it may worsen delays.
The lawsuit accuses Atlanta-based Delta of conspiring with the contractor, Metron Aviation Inc., or others to obtain the e- mails and computer files.
“Defendants conspired to hack or obtain hacked information from plaintiffs’ computer and AOL account with the purpose of derailing the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights of 2009,” according to the lawsuit.
“Obviously the idea that Delta would hack into someone’s e-mail is clearly without merit,” Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said in an interview. “Since this involves pending litigation we cannot comment further.”
Hanni said she learned from her service provider that her personal e-mail files were redirected to an unknown location along with donor lists, spreadsheets and other data, according to the news release.
Frederick Foreman of Haymarket, Virginia, alleges in the affidavit that Metron fired him Sept. 25 after confronting him with his e-mails with Hanni and his correspondence with news reporters. He was also shown Hanni’s emails with others, according to the affidavit.
James Gaughan, the senior vice president and general manager of Metron, told Foreman that Delta had sent the information to him, according to Foreman’s affidavit.
“I don’t speak about individual circumstances,” Gaughan said today in an interview, when asked about the lawsuit. He said the company would have a statement later.
Delta is a customer of Metron, a Dulles, Virginia-based research and consulting firm, according to an Oct. 5 news release on Metron’s Web site.
‘Mad and Upset’
“Mr. Gaughan said that Delta was mad and upset that one of Metron Aviation’s employees had provided Kate Hanni with this kind of information,” Foreman said in the affidavit.
Foreman analyzed airline delays for the federal government, according to the release from The Gibson Law Firm, which is representing Hanni. Foreman said in the affidavit that he told Metron that information he provided Hanni could be obtained by anyone analyzing publicly available information from the U.S. Transportation Department.
Hanni said she filed a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center about the hacking.
Hanni was prompted to begin her passenger-rights cause after a nine-hour tarmac delay on a flight by AMR Corp.’s American Airlines during a vacation with her husband and two sons in December 2006. She said in July that the Napa, California-based group she founded has 25,000 members and had collected 12,000 calls from passengers on a hotline.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved legislation July 21 with the three-hour standard Hanni seeks. The provision was included in a $34.6 billion plan to fund the Federal Aviation Administration for two years. The legislation is still pending in the Senate.
To contact the reporter on this story: John Hughes in Washington at email@example.com.