On a Delta Air Lines flight headed to Minneapolis, an off-duty employee kissed and groped the woman seated next to her, then airline employees attempted to cover up the incident, according to a new federal lawsuit.
A Minnesota resident in her early 40s was flying home from Las Vegas when she met Abigail Louise Trebnick-Emerson, who boarded the plane with a Delta “crew” bag but wasn’t working the November 2022 flight, a complaint says.
The pair were both served drinks, including alcohol, on the flight and “engaged in small talk,” according to the complaint.
After having a few cans of wine, Trebnick-Emerson, who was in the row’s middle seat, is accused of kissing the woman without her permission and leaning her head on the shoulder of a man next to her, the complaint says.
The woman reported Trebnick-Emerson kissing her, as well as her potential “level of intoxication,” to a flight attendant, who’s accused of later serving Trebnick-Emerson a fifth canned wine, according to the complaint.
For the rest of the flight, Trebnick-Emerson went on to kiss the woman’s cheek, repeatedly, “which was unwanted and (the woman) told her so,” the complaint says.
After the flight landed, the woman stood up to retrieve her belongings from the overhead cabin, according to the complaint.
Then, “Trebnick-Emerson rubbed (the woman’s) buttocks,” the complaint says.
“She groped my butt,” the woman told KARE 11 in an interview. “I turned to her and said, ‘We are not doing that!’”
Trebnick-Emerson was criminally charged in Hennepin County in connection with the incident but was never convicted of a crime, state court records reviewed by McClatchy News show.
Now the passenger is suing Delta Air Lines, accusing the airline employees of over-serving Trebnick-Emerson alcohol and attempting to cover up the sexual assault, according to the complaint. Trebnick-Emerson is also named as a defendant and accused of assault and battery.
In a statement to McClatchy News on Nov. 21, Delta Air Lines spokesperson Morgan Durrant confirmed Trebnick-Emerson “was an employee of a Delta subsidiary but not directly employed by Delta.”
“While we don’t have any specific comment on this pending litigation, Delta does not tolerate inappropriate or unlawful behavior. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and our people,” Delta Air Lines said in a statement provided by Durrant.
The criminal case
In the state case, Trebnick-Emerson was initially charged with criminal sexual conduct and disorderly conduct, according to court records obtained by McClatchy News.
Trebnick-Emerson pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in June and was sentenced to “unsupervised monitoring without conviction for 1 year” — a sentence to be monitored by Hennepin County District Court.
Peter Wold, who represented her in that case, declined to offer a comment when contacted by McClatchy News on Nov. 21
The passenger’s attorney Jeffrey S. Storms, of Minneapolis-based law firm Newmark Storms Dworak LLC, told McClatchy News on Nov. 21 that his client “wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
The attempted ‘cover-up’
When the woman left the plane, she reported the sexual assault to gate agents and requested them to alert law enforcement, according to the lawsuit, which says Delta Airport Customer Service was also notified of the incident.
An amended criminal complaint filed in Hennepin County in March details the accusations the woman made against Trebnick-Emerson in her lawsuit.
“(The woman) reported that she was offended and felt very uncomfortable with (Trebnick-Emerson) kissing and touching her” on Nov. 18, 2022, the amended criminal complaint written by an airport police detective says.
Following the assault, a Delta flight attendant who worked the flight is accused of conspiring with Trebnick-Emerson “to lie to all officials in an effort to protect Trebnick-Emerson and discredit (the woman),” the complaint says.
The complaint includes screenshots of apparent Facebook Messenger exchanges between the flight attendant and Trebnick-Emerson after the flight.
“I don’t know what happened. We had a nice conversation on the airplane. Do you know what she said??” Trebnick-Emerson is accused of writing in one message, referring to the woman, the complaint shows.
“You kissed her,” the flight attendant wrote in response, according to the complaint. “I know she came to the back and told (one flight attendant), but she didn’t appear to be ‘upset!?’”
After Trebnick-Emerson asked if that was true, the flight attendant wrote “yeah, you were pretty bombed,” the complaint says.
This attendant, and others, including the one accused of serving Trebnick-Emerson canned wine, conspired “to protect Trebnick-Emerson by providing Delta ACS investigators with false and inaccurate information about the events of the flight that led to and resulted in Trebnick-Emerson’s assault,” according to the complaint.
The complaint accuses Trebnick-Emerson of being “so intoxicated” while trying to leave the airport after the flight that she fell while going up an escalator, surveillance footage shows.
‘Not an isolated incident’
The lawsuit says this isn’t the first time Delta attendants have over-served passengers and it’s “not an isolated incident” — leading to sexual assaults aboard planes. The complaint cites a few federal cases involving accusations of intoxicated Delta passengers assaulting people aboard flights.
Storms told McClatchy News that the woman’s career is in the “realm of safety for children.” The woman, who is also a mother, works for a charitable foundation focusing on water safety related to children’s safety, the complaint says.
Since similar assaults aboard planes have occurred in the past, she’s had “a lot of anxiety” over how children may not be safe on flights, Storms said.
The lawsuit demands a trial by jury and seeks $375,000 in damages, the complaint shows.
The number of sexual misconduct cases aboard flights in the U.S. more than tripled between 2018 and 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced in an Aug. 9 news release.
If you have experienced sexual assault and need someone to talk to, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for support at 1-800-656-4673 or visit the hotline's online chatroom.