In another unfortunate tale of TSA incompetence, Carole A. Smith, a former transportation security officer at Albany International Airport, was fired in 2009 after another employee accused her of putting a hex on the heater in her car.
MSNBC reports that Smith, who is a Wiccan, had been working at the airport for seven months when she was called into a supervisor's office because she'd been accused of threatening workplace violence. Or rather, her former mentor, Mary Bagnoli, said she was afraid of her because she practiced witchcraft. Bagnoli claimed that Smith had followed her on the highway and cast a spell on the heater of her car, which made it stop working.
Click to viewSmith says in this video,
"I was dumbfounded. I told him, that's not what Wicca is. We don't cast spells. That's not witchcraft. That's black magic or voodoo or something else. To put a spell on a heater of a car, if I had that kind of power, I wouldn't be working for TSA. I would go buy lottery tickets and put a spell on the balls."
Thankfully, the supervisor was able to piece together that the complaint wasn't true since, you know, magic isn't real. Yet he still recommended that the two women go through the TSA's mediation program, because it would be "would be a good venue to dispel any misconceptions" Bagnoli had about Smith's religion. She refused, saying, "It's not up to me to teach her my religion. I mean, would I have to go down and sit with her if I was Jewish?"
The two women were told to stay apart, which amounted to Smith having to leave an area if Bagnoli got there first. But Smith says the harassment only got worse. When she called for bag checks on an X-ray, no one responded. Once, a co-worker yelled, "Get her the hell out of here! I can't stand to look at her!" in front of other employees. She started getting written up for various infractions including having a negative attitude, being eight minutes late to work, and yelling at a supervisor when she was told she'd have to work a 16-hour shift because no other women were available to pat down female passengers.
Smith complained about the harassment, as well as problems with airport security. She said a supervisor repeatedly left a gate open next to a metal detector and another failed to inspect a spare X-ray machine brought in by a contractor. "I wouldn't feel safe flying out of Albany," she said.
Prior to the Wicca incident, Smith had been praised for being in the top 10% at the airport in catching weapons on X-ray machines. MSNBC also notes:
She didn't mind working with the passengers — her training as a massage therapist kept her from being squeamish, as some officers were, about patting down elderly and special-needs passengers.
That's great, but it implies that other TSA employees have an unprofessional attitude toward certain passengers.
Eventually the situation devolved into Smith and her supervisors both filing various complaints against each other. It's hard to tell if they had a right to fire her, since she was still a probationary employee. After Smith filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, a judge ruled against her, but she believes she lost the case because she acted as her own attorney and has filed an appeal.
Regardless of the other complaints, the TSA still totally mishandled a clear case of religious discrimination against one of its employees. Smith's supervisor testified that he didn't know Wiccanism is a recognized religion until after he recommended mediation, yet he still went on to list the hex accusation as one of the reasons she was being terminated. Worse yet, it seems TSA workers spent an inordinate amount of time investigating ludicrous claims, and may have retaliated against an employee who pointed out security problems at the airport.