Note: This is the second of two posts that offer the prologue for Flight of Integrity. Click here to read from the beginning.
Juan does not think again about his quick check-in with Marianne until his supervisor, Matt O’Riley, calls the break room that afternoon and requests Juan’s presence in his office. “We need to discuss an infraction,” Matt says. This is nearly an everyday occurrence, so as Juan strolls to Matt’s office, he feels smug.
“What’s up, brother?” Juan asks, taking a seat in front of Matt’s desk and spreading his feet wide apart and flat on the floor to support his massive thighs. “You miss me?”
Juan is a mammoth black man with biceps the size of melons bulging even through his HomeAir-issue sweatshirt and windbreaker. He wears gold hoops in his ears that a woman could stick a pinky finger—or a tongue—through. His face features a prominent goatee he has a habit of stroking. Juan and Matt are a study in opposites; Matt is as white as Juan is black, and as doughy and out of shape as Juan is buff.
“Listen Juan,” Matt begins, sitting straight, leaning forward on his elbows. “We’ve done this dance before. I’ve had another complaint about harassment, and this time I heard it from a passenger.”
Matt lays a photo on top of his desk. “Security footage,” he says. “Six-twelve this morning.”
The image shows Juan pressed against Marianne, his finger running down her arm. Marianne looks furious, her mouth open in protest. “The passenger says you were harassing Marianne, and it appears to me that Marianne looks harassed here. You know I’ve heard this same story from Marianne. In fact, I’ve been hearing that story for the past eight months, since we transferred her to the ticket counter. We can’t have you making your fellow employees uncomfortable.”
“That white bitch was a nosy thing,” Juan counters, speaking of the mother who somehow managed to report his transgression before hopping on her plane. “I was saying good morning, what’s up to Marianne, is all.” He leans toward Matt. He is grinning, unconcerned.
“I hear you,” Matt says, “but the thing is, Juan, we need you to sever ties with HomeAir. We’ve gone over this, you and I, and we are done. You’ve had warning after warning. Sexual harassment is serious shit. We have a policy against it. We have a policy outlining ‘unwanted sexual behavior,’ and your behavior is unwanted, and it is sexual. You continually violate our policy. This is not to mention that we also have a stack of complaints here against you by men for intimidation, insubordination, failure to perform the regular duties of your job.”
Juan has stopped grinning, and it’s clear his demeanor is shifting from unruly to angry. “I got laws on my side too,” he fires back at Matt. “This is discrimination. This is racial. This is some serious hating of a brother. You can’t fire my ass and get away with that. Union’s got policies against that too.”
“That’s not going to work this time Juan. This is not discrimination. And this is not a firing, although we could make that happen. This is, in fact, a long overdue agreement, severing the airline’s ties to you. I have a passenger’s statement about your inappropriate behavior. I have this photo showing your index finger on Marianne Manginetti’s body. I can’t let you walk away with a slap on the hand this time,” Matt asserts. He is calm but firm. “I can make it easy for you and let you walk away, or we can fire you. You no longer have the support of your union rep or the union at large.”
“This is serious bullshit,” Juan says, standing, pacing. “I want my rep.”
“Your rep is done with you. You are done here, Juan,” Matt says. “Shall I call security, or do you want to sign this paper?” Matt signs the agreement and then slides it across the table to Juan, who glances at it but does not read it. Matt places a pen on the paper.
“What’s it say?” Juan asks.
“It says you resign. It says you no longer work for HomeAir and that you will not file a counter claim or suit.”
“This is serious bullshit. This is serious discrimination,” Juan repeats.
“This is reality,” says Matt. “This is what happens when you flout authority.”
“Flout,” Juan says, mocking the word and, thus, mocking Matt. “Now there’s a first-class, white-boy word. What? You think you’re better than me?”
There is a brief face-off. Matt, not a small man, has stood, knowing Juan will either back down or become enraged. Juan has a reputation for fighting in addition to exploiting women. He has been written up for bringing a knife to work, for flashing it, for threatening physical abuse. Matt is steeled to take Juan on if that is what becomes necessary. He walks to the phone. Picks up the hand piece. He nods toward the agreement on the table. “Security, Juan? Or sign?”
After a moment, Juan walks to the table and picks up the pen. Juan still does not read the document, but he signs it. Then he says, “Fuck you, O’Riley.”
“I’ll escort you to your locker, Juan, and then to the parking lot. I’ll need your badge, your flight card, your keys.”
When Juan is out the door and in the employee parking lot, Matt’s paunch and rounded shoulders become ever so slightly more relaxed. He knows he will have to give this man a reference, and he knows that means Juan will very soon become somebody else’s problem, that he will surely attempt to ruin other lives. Matt can’t worry about that, though. There are many lives here at HomeAir he’s just managed to protect.
I will discuss the process of developing this book on Tuesday, November 5 at South Hadley Library at 7 p.m. If you would like to purchase the book to read before the event, you can find it here.