When Alina Bracciale went to New York last August to apply for a position as a Delta Airlines flight attendant, she was expecting a routine interview with the company's personnel manager.
Instead, Ms. Bracciale says, she was bombarded with questions about her private life. Was she married? Had she ever been in therapy? Did she have any traffic violations? Did she own or rent a home? When was the last time she'd had sex?
The former Pan Am flight attendant says she also filled out forms that attorneys later said contained illegal questions about marital status, age, national origin, race and health.
Outraged, Ms. Bracciale began a mini-investigation of her own of the airline's hiring practices. Today, the 37-year-old Waltham, Mass., resident is the unofficial representative of hundreds of former Pan Am flight attendants who applied for jobs at Delta only to have their personal affairs made part of the application process.
They say the airline then used the information to disqualify them for jobs.
Neil Monroe, a spokesman for Delta, denies the allegations. "We are a diverse company and we are looking for people who can come in and do the job and nothing else," he said this week. "Allegations of this type simply are not true."
So far, 500 flight attendants have filed human-rights complaints against Delta in New York, Washington, Florida and California, according to Deborah P. Kelley, an attorney with Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin in Washington, which represents the flight attendants in bringing the complaints.
The complaints accuse Delta of asking illegal questions about the applicants' private lives.
Last month, the New York State Division of Human Rights found probable cause in 137 complaints filed with its office, according to Lance Ringel, an assistant commissioner.
"The fact that probable cause has been found means that an initial investigation shows there is enough evidence to send the case to a public hearing," Mr. Ringel said.
Ms. Kelley said her firm planned to file a suit against Delta, claiming that the company violated two federal laws, the Age, Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"The asking of wrongful questions violated state laws," she said. "But Delta also discriminated against people on the basis age, sex, national origin and marital status. People who should have been hired because they were highly qualified, were not hired for those reasons."
Mr. Monroe, the Delta spokesman, said Delta does ask job applicants questions about race and national origin, but that the questions are "optional," and applicants don't have to answer them. He said the information is required of any company, like Delta, that has a federally mandated affirmative action policy.
"There are a lot of rumors floating around out there, and a lot of people are just looking for a way to have a legal claim of some kind against Delta," he said. "No other carrier expressed one iota of interest in hiring these people after Pan Am went under. Were it not for Delta there would have been more Pan Am employees out of work than now."
Ms. Bracciale said that as part of her application, she was given a physical that included having her blood taken and being asked by a Delta health assistant when was the last time she had had sex. A doctor, meanwhile, asked if she had ever been pregnant.
When she learned that a 1988 New York state human-rights law bars employers from requiring job applicants to submit to pre-employment medical examinations, Ms. Bracciale filed charges in that state.
According to Larry Kunin, the attorney for the New York Division of Human Rights, other state laws bar companies from asking about marital status, age, living arrangements, birth control, arrest records, medical histories or physical disabilities -- even if applicants waive their right to privacy -- as many applicants did.