WASHINGTON - Two US Muslim imams have filed a lawsuit against two airlines after they were kicked off the plane in May based on the pilot's opinion about their appearance and religion, CNN reported on Tuesday, December 20.
"Defendants excluded Mr. [Masudur] Rahman and Mr. [Mohamed] Zaghloul because of the way they looked," claimed the suit filed by attorneys from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and United Firm of Carolina Law in Shelby County, TN circuit court.
"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."
The lawsuit said in its actions, Delta, in a supervisory role, discriminated, humiliated and slandered Rahman and Zaghloul.
According to the document, the pair were flying to Charlotte to attend a conference combating anti-Muslim bigotry when they "came face-to-face with the discrimination they hoped to learn how to diminish."
Going through TSA checkpoints and screening, both imams were taken from their gate to face a random, secondary security check and search.
According the lawsuit, the two men "willingly complied and cooperated to the best of their ability.
They say TSA agents asked them for identification and questioned them about their trip to North Carolina, then thanked them for their cooperation and cleared them to board.
Though they passed by extra screening, the two were seated about five rows apart as the plane prepared to take off.
But "moments after the plane began to taxi the runway and prepare for takeoff, defendants' pilot announced that the plane had to go back to the gate. Once the pilot returned the plane to the gate, defendants' pilot ordered both plaintiffs to get their bags and immediately leave the airplane," the complaint said.
The men pressed the supervisor to get a reason for the denial from the pilot directly.
"When Defendant Delta's supervisor returned, he was irate by Defendants' pilot's obstinate refusal to articulate a reason as to why the pilot was denying Plaintiff's boarding. The supervisor encapsulated his assessment of Defendants' pilot's actions in the following words: 'He is wrong,'" the complaint added.
Delta Air Lines argued that the company opposes discrimination in all its faces.
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," said Eric Torbenson, Delta Air Lines spokesman in a statement cited by CNN.
We cannot comment further on pending litigation.
However, the fact that the two imams were kicked outside the plane based on the mere opinion of the pilot was not acceptable.
There has to be a reason tied to security, attorney Mo Idlibi said in May.
You can't just kick people off a flight due to their race national origin or religion.
Idlibi was requesting a jury trial to seek compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be announced at trial.
This is not the first incident for American Muslims in flights.
In 2009, nine members of a Muslim family were removed from a domestic AirTran Airways flight to Orlando, Florida, after they chatted about their seats in the plane.
Another incident occurred in 2006 when six imams were removed from a domestic flight for what passengers considered suspicious behavior.
They were removed from the flight, handcuffed and detained in the airport for questioning for over five hours.
Since 9/11, American Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was targeting their faith.