By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press
HOUSTON - A flight attendant suing the wife of megachurch evangelist Joel Osteen for 10 percent of her net worth told jurors Tuesday the woman attacked her without provocation.
An attorney for Victoria Osteen questioned the flight attendant's perception that an assault even took place.
Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown testified that Victoria Osteen approached her and was upset and angry before the start of a 2005 flight from Houston to Vail, Colo.
In her lawsuit, Brown accuses Victoria Osteen of verbally and physically abusing her and another flight attendant when a spill on the arm rest of the woman's first-class seat was not quickly cleaned up.
"I asked her to calm down. When she came to me she was very upset. She was shaking (her sunglasses) in my face," Brown testified. "I asked her 'What could I do for you?' I did everything I thought I could do in that situation."
Brown testified that Victoria Osteen threw her against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast. Brown said even after that, she remained courteous and tried to help the passenger.
"I looked in her eyes and realized she was looking at the cockpit. I positioned myself in front of the cockpit," Brown said. "I still was trying to understand what was going on because it happened so quick. My main concern was I wasn't going to let this lady in the cockpit."
The captain of the plane, Bill Burnett, said he saw Brown and another flight attendant standing shoulder to shoulder at the cockpit door with their backs toward him.
"In 23 years I've never seen that happen," he testified in a videotaped deposition shown to jurors.
Brown is seeking punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth. She also wants an apology and compensation for counseling expenses.
"I want her to admit she did something (wrong). I think people need to be held accountable for their actions," Brown told jurors.
No dollar estimate has been given. Victoria Osteen's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told reporters last week that information is under seal and is not being made public. If the jury finds for the flight attendant and they get into punitive damages, then that information would come out in open court.
Both Victoria Osteen and Joel Osteen, who was on the same flight, testified last week that no attack took place.
The couple are co-pastors of Houston's Lakewood Church, a converted basketball arena that draws about 42,000 people each week for services. Joel Osteen's weekly television address is broadcast in the U.S. and internationally and his books are sold around the globe.
Hardin questioned Brown about her claim that Victoria Osteen tried to provoke her into hitting Osteen, and suggested Brown's perception of what happened is flawed.
"Ms. Brown, is it possible you have a history of perceiving things entirely different than they really happened?" Hardin asked.
"I have no comment," Brown responded.
Brown testified she suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder because of the incident and that her faith has been affected.
"I didn't want to lose my job because I felt I had to take a stand," she testified. "I felt I was no longer going to allow people to get away with bad behavior. I was very nervous about my job situation."
Under questioning by Hardin, she acknowledged that no doctor has diagnosed any physical injury resulting from the encounter on the airliner.