Too Short to Fly: Female Pilot Sues Charter Over Firing

Cockpit of an Embraer Phenom 300 light jet aircraft. (André Du-pont / Mexico Air Spotters via Wikipedia)

(CN) – Pilot Shari Drerup landed her dream job in 2016 when she was hired by the private airline NetJets. She completed her initial training the following year and received her captain’s wings. And then, she says, she was fired for being too short to fly a plane.

To add insult to injury, Drerup says in her gender discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Ohio-based NetJets, male pilots in her training class who were too tall to fit into the same cockpit were reassigned to larger aircraft.

Drerup is 5 feet 2 inches tall, and claims she’s been rated to fly five other planes – including two NetJets has in its fleet.

Issues arose when Drerup did her simulation training for the Embraer Phenom 300, a two-engine light jet that can carry up to 11 including two pilots.

During an “engine out” simulation – in which one engine was working and the other was not – Drerup says she struggled to maintain control of the aircraft. She says she could not reach the rudder pedal, which had to be pressed all the way to the floor to keep the nose of the jet from turning and rolling toward the failed engine.

This type of issue had not happened to Drerup in any of the other aircraft she was qualified to fly, and in her 9-page complaint she says her instructor agreed he’d “never instructed on an airplane that required so much rudder to the floor to keep the aircraft controlled.” The instructor noted in her record that “Shari’s stature precludes attaining sufficient control authority.”

Later that day, senior director of training – and co-defendant – Jim McQueen called Drerup. She says he told her to do what she had to do to be able to fly the Phenom, so she bought back pads and shoes with thicker soles. Neither worked and she failed her Federal Aviation Administration test in the Phenom simulator – and she says she was fired the following day.

In her complaint, Drerup says NetJets reassigned three male pilots who were too tall to fit into the Phenom cockpit. None of the men had to take the same FAA test that she says led to her firing.

“Why was a male pilot offered that opportunity and Sherry denied it?” attorney Gloria Allred, seated next to Drerup, said at a press conference Tuesday.

In addition to Allred, Drerup is represented by Ohio-based attorney Laren Knoll.

Drerup said her stature is something she cannot help and NetJets could have put her in another aircraft.

“It was terrible. It was my dream job. I went to a meeting expecting to be transferred, but they handed me a termination letter,” said Drerup. “They treated me like a criminal. I can’t just believe it.”

She seeks back pay, front pay or reinstatement and punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000.

NetJets said it does not comment on pending litigation.

With 750 planes, NetJets is the largest private jet operator in the world.

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