Lisa Kesner is looking for a job. She used to be a flight attendant. She worked for several years on the Red Wings’ private plane, where she was reportedly conscientious and safety-oriented. You know, the things you want in a flight attendant.

That is, if you’re a regular person, flying commercial. If you’re a multimillionaire athlete, flying private, you may have different expectations.

Kesner ran headfirst into those expectations in the spring of 2000, on her first flight with the Tigers, her new assignment. “The minute they got on, they were yelling, cursing, demanding beer,” she says. “During my safety briefing someone yelled, ‘Who cares? We’re all gonna die anyhow!’

“Next thing I know, we’re up in the air and the players have porno sites on their laptop computers. They thought it was funny. They’d call me over to ask for a drink, and they’d have the porno tilted right at me. I didn’t know what to say — so I just turned around.”

Such behavior — what we used to call being a lady — quickly earned Kesner the designation of “bitch.” That’s the polite word. We can’t print some of the other ones.

Kesner, an attractive woman in her mid-30s, didn’t want to party with the players. She didn’t want to drink with them. She wasn’t one of the “fun girls,” a designation she says players used for some younger, wilder flight attendants. Kesner didn’t condone players touching her or making sexual remarks or drunken insults.

“I have a husband and two sons,” she says. “These players thought girls were pretty much there to be all over them. But I wasn’t.”

Smoking in the lavatory

Things got worse as the season progressed. One time, she says, she saw smoke
“pluming out” of the lavatory after a player exited. She warned them that the flight was non-smoking. She informed the captain, which was her job.

“After that,” she says, “they were furious at me. One of them told me to get my ‘ass’ away from them. Another told me never to come near them again.

“They’d put pillow cases over the smoke detectors. I mean, that’s dangerous. They wanted someone to close their eyes and serve them beer and let them treat them like garbage.”

Why didn’t she complain? She did, she says. But the pilot, who helped make the assignments, was unresponsive. So were some management people. She continued to be assigned to the back of the plane — Section D, they called it — where the rowdiest players would congregate. She tried to endure it. She wanted the job.

On the last road trip of the season, some players came on dressed in Hooters Girls outfits. They told Kesner “not to stare at their private parts. They thought it was hysterical.”

That did it, she says. She covered her head with a blanket and refused to work the rest of the flight.

Are companies afraid to hire her?

Now, a lot of us put up with things on the job. But in most workplaces, the Tigers’ behavior would bring a lawsuit, if not a whole bunch of them. Still, Kesner was hoping only to return to the saner world of the Red Wings’ flights.
(“Those players were always polite and respectful,” she says.) Then she learned the company was being restructured. She was “let go.” Most of the other workers, including other flight attendants, were immediately rehired by the “new” company. Kesner was not.

So she sued. She charged harassment. And a jury, after hearing from her as well as the players — one of whom said, “If I called her a bitch, it’s because she must have called me a bitch” — decided she was right. A judge called the players’ behavior “shameful and disgraceful.” The jury awarded her
$200,000 in damages.

She is yet to see that, of course. The Tigers and the Ilitch family are talking appeal. It could take years. Meanwhile, Kesner no longer has her income (she says it was around $50,000 annually if working both teams). She sends out resumes. Nobody bites.

“I’ve been told other teams are afraid to hire me. They think I’m a whistle-blower.”

Now, I wasn’t there. You weren’t there. But even the Tigers admit their recent teams have been dopey and out of control — particularly off the field. It’s one reason Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson were brought in. To restore decorum. So I don’t doubt much of what Kesner says is true. The jury didn’t doubt it, either.

But she’s the one unemployed. The players are still out there, if not on Detroit’s roster, then on another. Wherever they are, they might want to talk to an older coach or manager and ask what it was like in the “olden” days, when players flew commercial flights, like normal human beings. Grabbing, insulting, cursing or harassing flight attendants wouldn’t get laughs; it would get you arrested.

“Companies are leery of me,” Kesner says. “They think, ‘If I hire her, she’ll sue me.’ It’s maddening, but that’s how it works.”

Perhaps. But if the measure of an employee is how well he or she follows rules and guidelines, it seems like the wrong party is looking for a job.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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