New York, NY: January 24, 2016: Shan Anand, 25, an Indian-American Sikh, his friend Faimul Alam, 23, of Bengali origin, and two others identified only by their initials, M.K., 29, also of Bengali origin, who manages his father’s construction company, and W.H., 23, a Syrian-American, a pharmacy student with his own clothing line, from New York, have filed a lawsuit against American Airlines for $6 million as compensation for being discriminated against and offloaded a plane from Toronto to New York City because the captain felt “uneasy” about them. All the four are reportedly U.S. citizens. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, on January 18. They are demanding a jury trial and asking for $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
According to reports, on Dec. 8, American Airlines and its affiliates, “disgracefully engaged in the discrimination of Plaintiffs based upon their perceived race, color, ethnicity, alienage and/or national origin by dramatically removing Plaintiffs, who not only paid for their flights but paid for upgrades as well, from American Airlines flight 4471,” says the complaint filed by the four passengers, a copy of which was made available to the media by their attorney Tahanie Aboushi. This case “to deter future behavior like this,” attorney for the four plaintiffs, Tahanie Aboushi told the media. “That’s really the push and objective for this lawsuit.”
After they boarded the flight Anand and Alam changed seats with some strangers on the plane in order to be near their friends W.H. and M.K. who had earlier upgraded their seats from economy to Business class. Shortly thereafter, a stewardess “dramatically” woke up W.H. and told the two friends to exit the plane immediately with their belongings. Shan and Alam, sitting close by, realized their friends were encountering some problem.
“Passengers surrounding Alam and Anand made bigoted and racist comments and held their children and belongings close to their person as if something was going to happen,” the lawsuit says. As passengers were watching the scene, the stewardess hurriedly rushed to Alam and Anand and demanded they also exit the aircraft “in a hostile manner” the complaint alleges. “Several passengers stared in fear and hate at Alam and Anand during this ordeal. Said passengers appeared prepared to physically assault Alam. Alam and Anand feared for their safety,” it adds. When Anand and Alam asked what the problem was the stewardess told them to leave “peacefully” and for all of them to return to the gate where boarding originated.
“Seeing a mother holding her child closer to her, looking at you in fear…those stares stay in your head,” Anand is quoted saying in a CNN report. “When I was coming off the plane, I kept thinking, ‘What did we do?’ But it was just because we looked a certain way,” he said. The young men told CBSNews they had never personally experienced racial profiling. “You just hope things change and people are still not, like, this ignorant toward these things, but then when it happens to you, you see it from a different light,” Anand is quoted saying in a CBSNews report.
Rights organizations are up in arms about yet another act of what they allege is profiling of Sikhs and Muslims. While acts of violence against Sikhs and Muslims manifested in several cases of violent, even deadly cases of backlash, discrimination of the type being alleged against American Airlines has been a persistent phenomenon, they contend. That includes bullying of Sikh children in schools.
“We think airlines are going to see more of these lawsuits if they continue to profile actual or perceived Sikhs or Muslims,” Gurjot Kaur, senior staff attorney at the Sikh Coalition said in a prepared statement.
“The airline industry has far too much discretion and power to discriminate — frankly it’s outrageous — and we applaud the plaintiffs for taking action.” Kaur has handled numerous hate crime and profiling cases, a spokesman for Sikh Coalition said.
“It’s this whole thing where the flight crew is uncomfortable or the passengers are uncomfortable. Why are they uncomfortable? Because of a perceived faith and ethnicity that leads to them being thrown off planes. It’s very troubling,” Ibrahim Hooper, the national director of communications for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNN. These types of incidents are going to continue he said.