Flight attendant Lauren Swaringer, 25, broke out in sweats minutes after taking her dark gray American Airlines uniform out of the bag she had it stored.
“Oh God it’s really hot,” she said. “I’m just really flushed…I just feel like my heart’s racing. It’s beating really fast and I feel shortness of breath.”
She was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with chemical exposure. Swaringer has been battling mysterious symptoms since first putting on the uniform last year.
“It’s like my whole health turned upside down,” she said. “I went from being completely healthy to now I’m disabled.”
FOX 46 wanted to talk to the dermatologist who treated Swaringer – who said her allergic reactions could be “life threatening” – and asked if he believes there is a connection between her illness and the uniform. Officials from Carolinas HealthCare System, where he works, responded to our request by telling us: “Our first priority is always our patients. We remain solely focused on providing our patients with the medical care necessary for recovery.”
Los Angeles trial attorney Daniel Balaban is representing 250 American Airlines employees in a lawsuit against the company that makes the uniforms, Twin Hill, alleging chemicals in garments are causing serious health problems.
“It’s a classic toxic exposure case,” said Balaban.
The Association of Flight Attendants received more than 6,000 complaints from American Airlines pilots, gate agents and flight attendants after the new uniforms rolled out in September of last year. The union tested the uniforms and found chemicals like Formaldehyde and a toxic chemical, Chlordane, which is banned by the EPA.
“The chance of their being a coincidence for several thousand workers alls haring one thing in common, the same uniform they all get sick at the same time with the same symptoms,” said Balaban, “that’s not a coincidence; that’s a defective product.”
The 250 employees in the lawsuit allege complications from the uniforms ranging anywhere from breathing problems and allergic reactions including rashes and hives all the way up to more serious disorders.
“Some very serious neurological cases,” said Balaban, “Which involve brain damage.”
Balaban is seeking damages that could climb into the “hundreds of millions” of dollars, he said.
“Unfortunately we do not comment on pending legal actions,” said Diego Louro with Tailored Brands, the company that owns Twin Hill, along with Men’s Warehouse and Joseph A. Bank.
In court filings the company dismissed the allegations writing: “Extensive testing has established that the uniforms are safe and…do not contain any substance at levels high enough to be capable of causing the reported health effects.”
Swaringer disagrees and says she has the rashes, swelling and doctor reports tp prove otherwise.
“Why would ya’ll give us these things that you know could possibly be poisonous?,” she asked.
With medical bills mounting, and no support from the airline, Fox 46 is getting results for Swaringer. Balaban saw her story and offered to help. He said he will reach out to her and look at her case to see if it has merit to be included in his lawsuit.
“We’d like to help out anyone who has been injured by these defective uniforms,” he said. “Including the woman in your piece. And I think we can do that.”
American Airlines has not issued a recall of the uniforms but announced it will not renew its contract with Twin Hill when it expires. The union says that could take two more years.
A judge dismissed a similar lawsuit last year, filed by employees with Alaska Airlines, saying there was not enough evidence to link medical complaints with chemicals in the uniform’s fabric.
American Airlines Statement:
“Despite the fact that multiple rounds of testing have shown that there is nothing wrong with the uniforms we would never want someone to feel uncomfortable. We have already to decide to go to a new manufacturer and that process is already moving forward.”