(CN) - Jay Leno and NBC defamed a flight attendant by falsely accusing her of "engaging in bestiality and sexual misconduct with a rat" that she purportedly smuggled onto a plane in her underwear, the woman claims in court.
Louann Giambattista sued the "The Tonight Show" host, his show and NBC Universal Media in Nassau County Supreme Court, claiming the comedian crossed the line with his "sickening, outrageous and disgusting attacks" on her.
The New York-based flight attendant says the defendants aired a segment mocking the claims she made in a federal lawsuit against her former employer of 32 years, American Airlines.
Giambattista, 55, had sued the airline in June, claiming her co-workers falsely reported that "she was carrying her pet rats onto work flights, and concealing them in her pantyhose or underwear."
Leno used those accusations in a "crude and defamatory" segment called "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda," where he stated the allegations as fact and "maliciously depicted plaintiff as a flight attendant who hid rats in her hosiery on work flights," according to last week's lawsuit.
He noted that one of Giambattista's co-workers claimed to have seen her feeding a rat, though Giambattista says she was merely eating a dinner roll out of a cup.
"I don't know who eats dinner rolls out of a cup," Leno said on the show, which aired July 18.
After introducing the story with Giambattista's photo, Leno invited three guest comedians to comment on the story, according to the flight attendant. She claims they "systematically criticized, defamed, and humiliated" her, though none is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The first panelist, Alec Mapa, "berated Ms. Giambattista for seating the rats 'in cooch,' a reference to plaintiff's genitalia," according to the lawsuit.
Panelist Jim Norton said the plaintiff enjoyed "something creepy in her underwear" and inappropriately suggested that Giambattista "hook up" with him, she claims.
But she says the most appalling comments came from panelist Kira Soltanovich, who suggested Giambattista "coulda used what the rest of us ladies use ... a Rabbit," referring to the name of a popular vibrator.
"In a wholly uncalled for and unsubstantial attack on plaintiff's character, the second panelist accused Ms. Giambattista of using the rats for her own sexual gratification and portrayed Ms. Giambattista as a woman engaged in sexual misconduct of the most depraved sort, bestiality," the lawsuit states.
"Throughout the segment, defendant Jay Leno indulged panelists' outlandish comments and laughed as his guests attacked Ms. Giambattista's character."
NBC Universal Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Millions saw the segment on television and online, the lawsuit claims, and Giambattista and her husband "became pariahs in their own community" as a result.
The show also wreaked havoc on their marriage, the plaintiff says, as her husband "now suffers from severe sexual dysfunction and inability to perform sexually."
"Every time he looks at her he thinks of defendant Leno and the heinous segment depicting her as a sexual deviant," the lawsuit states.
Giambattista claims Leno knew that the story was based on "blatantly false and malicious rumors," and that she "was the victim of discrimination fueled by American Airlines' outrageous belief that plaintiff suffered from a mental disability."
Giambattista seeks unspecified damages, along with attorney's fees and the pay she says she won't receive because the show ruined her career.
She says the jokes also damaged her husband's ability to work in the food industry, as "the allegations against his wife have called into question whether he should be preparing food after contact with rats."
Her attorney is Paul Bartels in Garden City, N.Y.