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Airlines Sued for ‘Discrimination’

June 4, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Lawsuits filed across the nation Tuesday accused airlines of discriminating against five passengers who looked Middle Eastern, forcing one man off a flight after a fellow passenger complained about ``those brown-skinned men.″

Five lawsuits were filed in California, Maryland and New Jersey, saying the men were removed from flights based on their skin color, said Reginald Shuford, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney.

``Discrimination is never a minor inconvenience,″ he said at a Manhattan news conference, blaming discrimination on poor airline policies to respond to the threat of terrorism.

Four of the passengers are U.S. citizens and the fifth is a permanent legal resident. Two of the five are of Arab descent.

Among the plaintiffs was Edgardo Cureg, 34, who said he was happy when he boarded a Continental Airlines plane in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 31 because his frequent flier status earned him an upgrade to first class.

Once aboard, he was asked to leave because another passenger had complained that he and two other men had acted suspiciously. Since no other flights were going to his Tampa, Fla., home that night, he was forced to go to Orlando, Fla., instead.

``I spent the saddest New Year’s Eve of my life alone, exhausted and depressed, with a bitter taste that lingers in my soul to this day,″ the permanent U.S. resident from the Philippines said.

Michael Dasrath, 32, a U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, said he was forced off the same flight after he saw another passenger glare at him and then tell the plane’s captain, ``Those brown-skinned men are behaving suspiciously.″

``What happened to me didn’t happen because the airline thought I was a security risk. It happened because someone didn’t like the color of my skin,″ said Dasrath, who was working in Manhattan on Sept. 11 when terrorists flew a plane into the World Trade Center, demolishing it.

Besides the Continental allegations, the ACLU also charged that men were removed from a Northwest Airlines flight on Oct. 23, an American Airlines flight on Oct. 31 and a United Airlines flight on Dec. 23.

It said Assem Bayaa, 40, a U.S. citizen from Long Beach, Calif., was ejected from United Flight 10 from Los Angeles to New York on Dec. 23; Arshad Chowdhury, 25, a U.S. citizen from Pittsburgh, was taken off Northwest Flight 342 from San Francisco to Pittsburgh on Oct. 23 and Hassan Sader, 36, a U.S. citizen from Virginia, was removed from American Flight 1531 from Baltimore to Chicago on Oct. 31.

``In ejecting our clients from their flights, the airlines were indulging in discrimination, not enforcing security, and that is both shameful and unlawful,″ Shuford said.

He said he suspected some people will conclude discrimination is just another cost in the fight against terrorism and suing over the issue is unpatriotic.

``But there is nothing patriotic about discrimination, nor is there any honor in suffering it in silence,″ Shuford said.

The lawsuits ask federal courts to declare that the airlines’ actions violated the men’s civil rights and to order the airlines to prevent future discrimination.

In a statement, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it had received more than 60 reports since Sept. 11 telling how more than 100 people perceived to be Arab Americans were forced off flights.

United spokesman Joe Hopkins said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuits. In general, he said, airline captains have the discretion to remove passengers because of safety or behavioral issues.

Rahsaan Johnson, a spokesman for Continental Airlines, said the company had not seen the lawsuits and could not comment specifically.

``Continental Airlines has a strong policy against discrimination in any form,″ he said.

Mary Beth Schubert, a spokeswoman for Northwest Airlines, said: ``We are satisfied that our employees acted in accordance with FAA security directive and federal regulations in denying boarding to him. The action was not based on his ethnic background.″

In a statement, American Airlines said, ``We are enormously disappointed in this lawsuit. This is a company with a long and recognized commitment to diversity and with an uncompromising commitment to air safety.″

Another lawsuit citing discrimination was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project on Tuesday.

Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a 41-year-old financial planner for Motorola who lives in Austin, Texas, filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against American, alleging he and his children were traumatized when a jittery pilot had him removed from a plane on Sept. 29.

Airline security was tightened after Sept. 11. Victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania included passengers and crew aboard two American and two United flights.

___

Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler contributed to this story.

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