Two Muslim men who were allegedly removed from an airplane in May after the pilot refused to takeoff with them on board are suing the company, Delta Air Lines Inc., for losses and punitive damages, according to court documents.
Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul filed a suit in a Memphis federal court Monday, claiming Delta discriminated against them as they attempted to fly to Charlotte for a conference on anti-Muslim discrimination.
Rahman is an adjunct professor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, and Zaghloul is a religious leader with the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis.
On the day in question, Rahman wore traditional Indian clothes while Zaghloul wore Muslim headwear.
The men passed through security but were given a second security check at the gate. After boarding, the plane began to taxi only to return to the gate shortly thereafter. The men were asked to leave at the pilot’s request and were given a third security check – what the lawsuit describes as a "comprehensive body pat down."
After the third check failed to produce any condemning evidence, the men were allowed back onto the flight. Security personnel told passengers that anyone who felt uncomfortable on the flight may leave and receive a ticket on a later flight and a generous voucher.
No one left the plane, but the pilot again refused to allow the men to board. Eventually, the men were booked on a later flight.
It is within the pilot’s legal rights to remove any person from the plane whom he or she feels endangers the safety of the passengers and aircraft. However, federal regulations prohibit such decisions from being made based solely on race, color, national origin, religion, ethnicity or sex.
"Defendants excluded Mr. Rahman and Mr. Zaghloul because of the way they looked," the lawsuit claims. "They had beards, wore traditional Arabic clothing, and were visibly foreign. Defendants unlawfully relied upon these characteristics to conclude that Mr. Rahman and Mr. Zaghloul were security threats, disallowing them from utilizing their purchased tickets."
Delta issued a response to the lawsuit, saying, "Atlantic Southeast and Delta oppose discrimination in any form from any source, and our employees act at all times in the best interest of passenger safety and security. We cannot comment further on pending litigation."