ARCHIVE: ACLU defends U.S. citizen removed from flight for appearing Muslim

June 4, 2010

PRESS CONFERENCE:  JUNE 4, 2002

EMBARGO UNTIL: 12:00PM E.D.T. Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Contact:    Christy E. Lopez (clopez@relmanlaw.com)
        Kelli M. Evans (kevans@relmanlaw.com)
        Relman & Associates, 202-728-1888

        Stella Richardson, (srichardson@aclunc.org)
        ACLU of Northern California, 415-621-2493x352

        David Rocah (rocah@aclu-md.org)
        Stacey Mink (mink@aclu-md.org)
        ACLU of Maryland, (410) 889-8555

ACLU AND RELMAN & ASSOCIATES SUE FOUR MAJOR AIRLINES FOR DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PASSENGERS

WASHINGTON--Five civil rights lawsuits filed across the country today accuse American, Continental, Northwest and United Airlines of blatant discrimination against passengers who were ejected from flights based on the prejudice of airline employees and passengers and for reasons wholly unrelated to security.

The lawsuits were filed in California, New Jersey and Maryland by Relman & Associates, a Washington-based civil rights law firm, and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of five men and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.  Four of the passengers are United States citizens and the fifth is a permanent legal resident; two of the five are of Arab descent.  Relman & Associates also represent three other victims of airline discrimination, including a Secret Service agent who was barred from flying American Airlines in December, 2001, because of his Arab ancestry.
 
"In ejecting our clients from their flights or not permitting them to board, the airlines were engaging in illegal discrimination, not enforcing security," said Kelli Evans of Relman & Associates, one of the attorneys representing plaintiff Arshad Chowdhury in a case filed in federal district court in San Francisco.  "We are filing this suit today to ensure that our
clients will in the future be able to fly with the knowledge that flight crews are guided by proper security considerations, not bias."

Mr. Chowdhury, a Connecticut-born U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi descent and an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, worked as an investment banker at Deutsche Bank in and across the street from the World Trade Center between 1998 and April 2001. Mr. Chowdhury, 26, is also represented by the ACLU of Northern California.

On October 23, 2001, Northwest Airlines refused to permit Mr. Chowdhury to board a flight in San Francisco.  Even after the FBI and local law enforcement authorities had determined that Mr. Chowdhury was not a security threat, airline employees told Mr. Chowdhury that the pilot had decided that Mr. Chowdhury would not be allowed to fly on Northwest.  Northwest booked
him on a US Airways flight instead.  Despite the security clearance by federal and local law enforcement professionals, Northwest input Mr. Chowdhury's name into a database that apparently included the names of known terrorists and failed to remove his name.

"I love America intensely and was deeply affected by the events of September 11," said Mr. Chowdhury. "But the result of this system is that my parents and my friends in the Bangladeshi community are too scared to fly. While we share with all Americans a fear of the statistically slim chance of terrorism, my community has the additional fear of almost certain harassment from our fellow Americans."

In another case being filed today, Hassan Sader, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen of Moroccan origin, was removed from an American Airlines flight from Baltimore to Chicago (en route to Seattle) on October 31, 2001, because another passenger told an attendant that she was not comfortable flying with Sader on board.  He had passed through all security checks without incident and he was not searched again before boarding another flight.  A gate agent told him afterward that he was removed because he was from the Middle East and because his name was Hassan.

"American Airlines made a conscious decision to humiliate our client in order to accommodate the irrational bias of a fellow passenger," said David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland who is representing Sader in a case filed in federal district court in Baltimore.  "This action by American Airlines was immoral, illegal and decidedly un-American."

"I became a United States citizen in 1994 because I love this country and the freedom and opportunity available here," said Sader, a former tennis coach who lives in Virginia. "This incident, however, made me feel like a piece of nothing and goes against all that my adopted country stands for."

Mr. Chowdhury's and Mr. Sader's cases are two of five being filed today.  While details of the legal complaints vary, the cases share certain key elements: the men are all of Middle Eastern or Asian appearance; they had all passed rigorous security checks and were cleared to board; they were all were ejected or not permitted to board after passengers or airline employees said that they did not want them on board; and the incidents all occurred after the terrorist attacks of September 11.  The airlines' lack of any genuine security concerns about the men is underscored by the fact that the airlines did not subject any of the men to additional security searches, but
simply offered them seats on other flights or other airlines.

"Airline employees who have not received law enforcement training should not be permitted to trump the security decisions of trained law enforcement professionals without a legitimate security reason.  But that is exactly what happened to our clients and what is happening across the United States to people perceived to be Arab or Muslim," added Christy Lopez of Relman &
Associates.

"These cases show that people of many different ethnicities are being subjected to arbitrary and humiliating discrimination by airlines across the country," said Jayashri Srikantiah, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, which is also representing Mr. Chowdhury. "A country as diverse as the United States should have no tolerance for this kind of discrimination."

Collectively, the lawsuits ask four federal courts to declare that the airlines' actions violated the men's civil rights and ask the courts to order that airlines implement measures to prevent future discrimination.

The other plaintiffs in today's cases are:

  • Assem Bayaa, 40, a U.S. citizen from Long Beach, CA, ejected from United Airlines Flight 10 (Los Angeles to New York) on December 23, 2001

 

  • Edgardo Cureg, 34, a permanent legal resident from Tampa, FL, ejected from Continental Flight 1218 (New Jersey to Tampa) on December 31, 2001

 

  • Michael Dasrath, 32, a U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, NY, ejected from Continental Flight 1218 (New Jersey to Tampa) on December 31, 2001


Details about Mr. Chowdhury's case can be found online at http:/www.relmanlaw.com.  Details about the other cases can be found online at http:/www.aclu.org.