A former flight attendant launched a landmark sex discrimination lawsuit against Cathay Pacific yesterday after being forced to retire 10 years earlier than male colleagues. Li Yuet-ngor, 45, quit after 20 years' service last September because of the rule that female cabin crew must retire at 45. Male cabin crew who joined before 1993 can work until 55. The lawsuit came two weeks after the airline announced that its retirement age would be the same from now on for both sexes. The new policy enables 2,400 female crew to work for 10 more years. The District Court writ, filed yesterday, said Cathay's policy violated the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, in force since 1996, and claimed damages for loss of earnings since September and expenses on unsuccessful job searches. Ms Li was unemployed until last week, when she found a part-time job through a programme organised by the Employees' Retraining Board. She said she was forced to go to court after failing to reach an agreement with the airline through mediation by the Equal Opportunities Commission. 'I would not have to face the humiliation and social stigma of being unemployed if Cathay had followed the law,' she said. 'We were naive, thinking a supposedly progressive company like Cathay would work to be a fair and lawful employer.' Male and female flight attendants who joined after 1993 must retire at 45. About 2,400 female attendants who started before 1993 also have to retire by 45 but the men, numbering less than 200, could work until 55 under the old policy. A Cathay spokeswoman said: 'The old retirement policy was formulated in a different social environment years ago and changing it was a complicated matter that involved the contract terms and retirement packages of many people.' A small number of flight attendants forced to retire under the old policy may be considered for re-employment, she said. She declined to comment on possible compensation, saying it would depend on the court. The Cathay Flight Attendants' Union welcomed the new policy. 'It's not only necessary under the law but it's the right thing to do,' vice-chairman Danny Ho Hi-keung said. Aviation consultant Jim Eckes said the policy was long overdue. 'In the US or European Union, no one would dare to enact such a retirement policy,' he said.