Judge Rules ACLU Discrimination Suit Against Continental Airlines Can Go Forward

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
October 18, 2002 12:00 am

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Airline Ejected Passengers After Another Flier Complained of “Brown-Skinned Men”


NEWARK – A federal district judge has denied a motion to dismiss two federal civil rights lawsuits alleging that Continental Airlines discriminated against passengers in removing them from a flight, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

In his ruling, Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise of the United States District Court in New Jersey said that the ACLU had “sufficiently alleged” that their clients’ removal from the flight “was the product of intentional discrimination. . . not of a rational determination that their presence was ‘inimical to safety.'”

“This ruling is significant because it recognizes the balance between safety and freedom that we are striving so hard to achieve since September 11,” said Reginald Shuford, an ACLU national staff attorney who argued the case.

The lawsuits were filed by the ACLU of New Jersey and the National ACLU on behalf of Michael Dasrath, an American citizen born in Guyana, Edgardo Cureg, a permanent resident from the Philippines, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. According to the ACLU lawsuit, a Continental pilot ejected Mr. Dasrath and Mr. Cureg from their flight last New Year’s Eve after another passenger complained to the pilot about the presence of “brown-skinned men.”

Continental 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. Judge Debevoise rejected that argument, declaring that “a racially motivated removal would not be sheltered” by laws granting pilots discretion.

The decision comes less than one week after a federal judge in California permitted similar claims against United Airlines to proceed, saying that pilots’ discretion “does not grant them a license to discriminate.” That case, Bayaa, et al. v. United Airlines, was filed by the ACLU along with four other cases on behalf of men who were ejected from flights based on the prejudices of airline employees and passengers and for reasons wholly unrelated to security.

For more information on all five cases, see www.aclu.org/racialjustice/racialprofiling/25583res20020604.html

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