Kim Do Hee, the flight attendant who served the nuts in question, is seeking compensation through a trial in New York after she was verbally and physically attacked by Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah, according to a statement issued yesterday by two American law firms, the Weinstein Law Firm and Kobre & Kim.
Cho, a vice-president of the airline overseeing cabin service at the time of the 5 December incident, was enraged that Ms Kim, 27, served her macadamia nuts in a bag, not on a dish.
After a heated confrontation with crew in the first class cabin, Cho ordered the head flight attendant, Park Chang-jin, off the plane, forcing it to return to a gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
It is the first civil lawsuit connected with the nut rage case, which infuriated South Koreans and hogged global headlines. Last month a South Korean court sentenced Cho, 40, to one year in prison for violating aviation security laws, using violence against a flight attendant and other charges. Cho, who is the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman, has appealed the ruling.
The summons filed on Monday with the Supreme Court of the State of New York County of Queens said Cho screamed obscenities at Ms Kim and hit and threatened her.
She was also pressured to lie to government investigators to cover up the incident and to appear in public with Cho “as part of an orchestrated effort to try and rehabilitate Cho’s public image”, the summons said.
Ms Kim is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at the trial.
Ms Kim was unable to resolve the dispute privately and both Korean Air and Cho did not engage in “any substantive” settlement discussions with Ms Kim’s lawyers, the statement said. Cho will be held responsible for the damage that she has caused to Ms Kim’s career, reputation, and emotional well-being, it said.
During Cho’s trial in Seoul last month, Ms Kim testified that Cho’s power at the airline was “unimaginably big” and she could not refuse her orders.
She also said Korean Air was her dream job since she was a high school student but after false rumours spread on the internet about her accepting a professorship in exchange for lying to investigators, she could not return to work as a flight attendant.
Earlier reports said after Cho was served the nuts by Ms Kim, she summoned head steward Mr Park and confronted him about the presentation. Mr Park said in December he was forced to kneel in front of Cho, who then ordered him off the flight.
The case opened a debate about the Korean business system, which is dominated by family firms known as chaebols. Neither Cho’s lawyer or Korean Air responded to a request for comment.