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Pan Am Accused in Lawsuit of Discriminating Against Arabs

March 1, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ An Arab-American group on Friday accused Pan American World Airways of harassing passengers who appear to be Arabic.

The lawsuit, filed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union, was joined by an Iranian- American photographer who said he was unlawfully detained by Pan Am security agents at the Miami airport.

Mohammad Ghonoudian said Pan Am employees escorted him from a plane shortly before departure, questioned him for three hours, searched him and told him he ″fit the profile″ of a terrorist.

″Mr. Ghonoudian emerged from his ordeal emotionally devastated, abjectly humiliated, dizzy and feeling physically and psychologically violated,″ said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The lawsuit said the committee has received numerous reports and complaints that the airline singled out Arabs and Arab-Americans for special scrutiny not given non-Arab passengers.

The committee, or ADC, said it sued on behalf of its 25,000 members who have suffered, or who might suffer, because of Pan Am’s alleged discriminatory policies.

Pan Am spokesman Jeff Kriendler said the lawsuit was ″without merit.″ He declined to comment further.

Pan Am was sued in February over its alleged policy of barring Iraqi nationals from flying with the airline. This policy was canceled on Feb. 22 but the class-action lawsuit for Iraqis affected by the practice is pending.

The ADC lawsuit said the airline’s alleged discriminatory practices violated the Federal Aviation Act and the Civil Rights Act. It seeks to bar the airline from continuing the discrimination.

Ghonoudian, the photographer, asks for $1 million in damages for false imprisonment, false arrest, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Ghonoudian, a naturalized American citizen who lives in Brooklyn, was detained by the airline on Feb. 1 as he was changing planes upon return from a photo shoot in Peru.

The lawsuit said that at one point, he asked the agents if they would have removed a ″white American″ from a plane for questioning. A Pan Am agent responded that he ″fit the profile″ of a terrorist.

When Ghonoudian complained about his treatment, the agent told him he would be held for a long time if he didn’t cooperate, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint said Pan Am employees repeatedly examined Ghonoudian’s camera equipment and subjected him to a personal search in which an agent patted every part of his body.

The questioning ended abruptly after three hours with no explanation or apology, the lawsuit said. He was allowed to take a later Pan Am flight to New York.

The lawsuit included several other examples of Pan Am’s alleged discriminatory practices, none as severe as those alleged by Ghonoudian.

In its own investigation, the ADC said it monitored Pan Am ticketing procedures at Washington National Airport on Feb. 16 and 17.

During one three-hour check, three groups of Arab-appearing passengers were held up for at least 20 minutes by questioning and searches while other passengers were cleared quickly, the lawsuit said.

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