A Fort Worth jury on Wednesday exonerated American Airlines of responsibility for a British celebrity chef’s sexual assault against a flight attendant in 2018.
Jurors decided after a two-week civil trial that Mark Sargeant, a London chef working with American Airlines to develop in-flight menus, assaulted Kimberly Goesling in her hotel room during a business trip to Germany. But the jury rejected Goesling’s contention that her employer encouraged Sargeant’s physical advances.
Goesling’s attorney, J. Robert Miller Jr. of Miller Bryant in Dallas, said he will appeal the verdict. Goesling had sought nearly $26 million in damages against the airline.
The lead attorney for American Airlines, Shauna J. Wright, a partner in the Fort Worth firm of Kelly Hart & Hallman, did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the verdict.
According to court documents, Goesling, a veteran flight attendant active in American’s recruitment and training programs, was on a flight to Germany in January 2018 as part of a team developing a deluxe menu for the airline’s international passengers flying first class or in business class. Sargeant, who has worked closely for years with star chef Gordon Ramsey, was in charge of the culinary initiative.
Goesling claimed Sargeant sexually assaulted her after barging into her hotel room at 3:30 a.m. on the last night of the trip.
Among the grounds for appeal, Miller said, is the exclusion by Tarrant County District Judge Kimberly Fitzpatrick of evidence that Sargeant had a history of sexual harassment of female associates, a history, Miller contends, with which American Airlines was amply familiar.
“American Airlines should have terminated Mark Sergeant long before he ever met Kimberly Goesling,” Miller said. “This flight never should have occurred.”
In her suit, Goesling claimed Sargeant pursued her after American executives encouraged him to do so. In a video deposition, Sargeant said he was encouraged by an American Airlines manager, Brett Hooyerink, who drank with Sargeant and told him that Goesling was interested in him.
The Fort Worth jury found that American Airlines, through Hooyerink, did not “assist and participate with Mark Sargeant in committing the sexual assault.”
Sargeant was never criminally charged. Miller said his client attempted to file criminal charges in Germany but was unable to do so “due to a language barrier.” She then turned to authorities in Fort Worth, he said, who refused to pursue an investigation of activities in a foreign country.