HOUSTON – The wife of renowned evangelical pastor Joel Osteen acted like a combative diva when a small spill on her airline seat was not immediately cleaned up, a flight attendant who was also on the plane testified Thursday.
The testimony came during the civil trial of a lawsuit that accuses Victoria Osteen, the co-pastor a Houston megachurch, of assaulting a flight attendant before the start of a 2005 flight to Vail, Colo.
Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown alleges Victoria Osteen threw her against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast during an angry outburst over some spilled liquid on her first-class seat. Brown claims Victoria Osteen became so upset she tried to get into the cockpit and had to be physically restrained.
Brown's co-worker, Maria Johnson, confirmed that in her testimony Thursday.
"She took Sharon by the shoulders and pushed her out of the way. Sharon stumbled," Johnson said
Rusty Hardin, Victoria Osteen's attorney, said earlier Thursday the lawsuit is simply a money grab.
"This is nothing more than an attempted extortion," Hardin told jurors during opening statements.
Johnson testified that before Victoria Osteen tried to get in the cockpit, she became increasingly agitated while she and Brown remained professional and reassured her a crew had been called to clean the spill, which was about the size of a 50-cent piece.
"She was demanding that attention be given to her immediately," Johnson said.
Johnson told jurors that Victoria Osteen kept saying: "This is ridiculous. I'm a first-class passenger."
Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, told jurors during his opening statement that his client was simply doing her job.
"Sharon was attacked by someone in the community who supposedly represents a higher degree of human decency," he said.
Brown's suit claims the flight attendants asked to have Victoria Osteen removed from the plane. Hardin told jurors Victoria Osteen and her family left voluntarily. The incident delayed the flight about 2 1/2 hours.
Hardin admitted that Victoria Osteen can be a "very excitable and expressive person," but that she was never out of control.
"Victoria Osteen never attacked her, never tried to get in the cockpit," Hardin said. "The aggressor and the person who was out of control, who flipped out, was Ms. Brown."
About 42,000 people flock to Lakewood Church every week to hear Victoria Osteen's husband Joel Osteen, whose weekly television address is broadcast nationally and internationally and whose books have been sold across the globe.
The Osteens were both expected to testify during the trial.
Brown wants an apology and punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth as part of her suit.
"They will say this is about money. But that is the only remedy a jury can offer," McKamie said.
McKamie said Brown, who had undergone reconstructive surgery before the incident on her breasts due to illness, was injured when she was hit on her chest. Brown also suffers from anxiety because of the incident and that her faith was affected, her attorney said. Brown is also suing Victoria Osteen for medical expenses for counseling.
But Hardin told jurors there is no evidence Brown sustained any injuries, including claims she now suffers from hemorrhoids.
The Federal Aviation Administration fined Victoria Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member.
Hardin told jurors Victoria Osteen paid the FAA fine not because she was guilty but as a way to conclude the matter and avoid any embarrassment for her church.