CHICAGO — A Chicago federal judge has found United Airlines didn't discriminate against an African-American former employee who sued  the company after he was fired for allegedly taking food from an airplane during a layover.

U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur ruled in favor of the airline, granting the company summary judgment after finding plaintiff Garvin Bedford did not prove racial and age discrimination.

Bedford, 57, filed suit against United, alleging that his employment termination “was the product of unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” according to court documents.

Bedford was employed with United as a customer service representative from 1996 to 2014. United terminated his employment for allegedly trying to take food off an international flight at O’Hare International Airport in violation of the airline's policy and federal regulations.   

“Rules and regulations against tampering with or removing international catering are intended to safeguard the United States agriculture industry by preventing exposure to certain types of plant pests or livestock diseases,” Shadur noted.

Another United employee, a white female under the age of 40, was also caught taking food from the same airplane. She was disciplined, but was not terminated.

While the female employee admitted to taking food, she allegedly attended an investigative meeting and was offered and accepted a “last chance” agreement to return to work for United.

Court documents show that Bedford refused to admit any wrongdoing or admit he took food from the airplane, and continues to deny it.

“Instead he claims that he did not know there was food in the bag next to him or in the microwave," Shadur said in the decision. "Shortly after the incident, Bedford's supervisor confronted him, and he denied the allegation."

Bedford continued to deny taking food during the investigation and the hearing process conducted by two United officers.

United still offered Bedford to keep his job under a “last chance” agreement, but he declined the offer. United then terminated his employment, according to court documents.

Bedford was represented in the action by the firm of Arnstein & Lehr LLP, of Chicago.

United was defended by the firms of Miller & Chevalier Chartered, of Washington, D.C., and Pugh Jones P.C., of Chicago.  

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Arnstein and Lehr LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois United Airlines

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