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New York state employee on leave after viral airplane tantrum

A New York state employee who name-dropped Gov. Andrew Cuomo during an airplane tantrum captured on video by a Rochester-area woman has been placed on leave, according to the state.
(Photo: Thinkstock)

ALBANY - A New York state employee who name-dropped Gov. Andrew Cuomo during an airplane tantrum captured on video by a Rochester-area woman has been placed on leave, according to the state.

A spokesperson for the state Council of the Arts on Thursday confirmed it has removed an employee from its office pending an investigation into her conduct in the viral Facebook video, which has garnered more than 1.4 million views since it was posted last week by a Henrietta woman seated next to her.

The spokesperson, Ronni Reich, did not identify the employee or respond when asked if the woman would be paid while on leave.

Spectrum News identified the woman as Susan Peirez, a $95,000-a-year program director whose name and photo has since been wiped from the state council's website. A voice mail left Thursday at a phone number listed for Peirez was not immediately returned.

In the video, the woman is seen angrily arguing with a Delta attendant aboard a Feb. 6 flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens to Syracuse.

The video shows the woman claiming she "work(s) for the governor" and insisting on a new seat, complaining that her assignment was next to a "crying baby" in the back of the airplane.

When the flight attendant suggested she board the next flight, the woman asked for worker's name. The attendant dutifully complied, telling the woman her name was Tabitha and providing her employee ID number.

"Thanks, Tabitha," the woman said angrily. "You may not have a job tomorrow."

The flight attendant then ordered the woman off the plane, leading her to plead for her spot. The worker can be heard saying the woman "screamed" at another woman and her baby — Henrietta resident Marissa Rundell and her 8-month-old son.

Rundell posted the video that morning and it quickly went viral, picking up covering in the Daily Mail, Fox News and other outlets around the globe.

In a phone interview Thursday, Rundell said the woman in the video did ultimately leave the plane.

Rundell said the woman was the last to originally board the plane and used a series of expletives when realizing her seat was in the back of the aircraft, leading Rundell to twice ask the woman not to use coarse language around her son.

The second time, the woman heard her and told her to shut up, according to Rundell, a Mary Kay consultant and cheerleading coach.

"I started recording right after that," she said.

Rundell praised the flight attendant, saying she "couldn't have handled it any better."

Reich, the Council on the Arts spokesperson, said state employees "must be held to the highest standard both professionally and personally."

The state council distributes more than 2,000 grants each year to arts organizations across New York.

"We were notified of this situation and have commenced an investigation," Reich said in a statement. "This employee has been removed from the office and placed on leave until further notice and until the inquiry is resolved.”

Rundell said the state's action has left her torn.

"I feel bad because of it, because I know it's because I posted that video," Rundell said. "A part of me feels like she's getting what she deserved. And then another part of me just feels bad that it's happening, because I don't know her story."

Delta, meanwhile, released a statement thanking the flight crew of Endeavor Air, the company's subsidiary that operated the flight, and apologized to the other passengers.

"We ask that customers embrace civility and respect one another when flying Delta," the company said.

"This customer’s behavior toward a fellow customer on a flight from New York to Syracuse was not in keeping with those standards."