Federal Judge in CA Rebuffs United Airline's Plea To Dismiss ACLU Discrimination Case

October 11, 2002 12:00 am

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Arab-American Man Was Ejected From Plane Because Crew Member “”Felt Uncomfortable”” Having Him on Board


LOS ANGELES – A federal district judge today denied a motion to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit charging that United Airlines discriminated against a passenger.

“”This is a great victory,”” said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, which filed the case on behalf of Assem Bayaa, an American citizen of Middle Eastern descent. “”The airline’s extreme argument was that even if all of our allegations of discrimination were true, federal courts were powerless to intervene. This sends a strong message to the airlines that they are not exempt from civil rights protections.””

United Airlines had argued that compliance with state and federal civil rights laws would conflict with their employees’ duty to use discretion in determining who should fly. The judge rejected that argument, declaring that pilots’ discretion “”does not grant them a license to discriminate.””

In December of 2001, Assem Bayaa was ordered off a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York Bayaa had cleared numerous security checks before boarding the plane. Nevertheless, he was ejected from the plane because, he was told, the crew “”felt uncomfortable”” having him on board. Following his removal from the plane, Bayaa was never once questioned or searched by security personnel; in fact, he was promptly offered a boarding pass for the next flight, and his checked luggage was not even removed from the original plane before it took off.

The national ACLU and its affiliates are also participating in discrimination lawsuits filed in Maryland, New Jersey and San Francisco on behalf of four other men who were ejected from flights based on the prejudices of airline employees and passengers and for reasons wholly unrelated to security.

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