Launch in new window

Eden Burns & Christopher Tubbs - Bacchus won't stop

You are here

International: Alaska Airlines sued for alleged discrimination

4:30 pm on 11 August 2022

Two Black Muslim colleagues filed a lawsuit against Alaska Airlines for discrimination after the airline removed them from a flight when another passenger complained about Arabic text messages.

The US citizens born in Sudan were first-class passengers flying from Seattle to San Francisco on 17 February 2020.

The colleagues in a medical transport business were planning to purchase work vehicles and drive them back to Washington, where they both lived.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which first publicised the incident in December 2020, filed the lawsuit on 2 August this year. 

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff's federal and state rights were violated as paying passengers.

According to the police report of the incident, part of the plaintiffs' text chain included a rocket emoji. The report said that the emoji was intended to describe a picture positively as "the bomb."

The plaintiff offered their phone to the airline manager, who examined the text messages in question and deemed them "completely innocuous," according to the lawsuit. 

The police report said the captain ordered the lavatory tanks to be emptied after the other plaintiff used the bathroom, and the airline requested a police dog to screen luggage for explosives.

Police confirmed that the situation was a misunderstanding with "no threat of any kind" and that police were no longer needed. 

But according to the lawsuit, the airline manager later took other passengers off the plane to be screened again "to show them that Alaska Airlines was concerned about their security and took the incident seriously."

The airline would also not allow them to travel together on rebooked flights. 

In a statement, the airline said it "strictly prohibits discrimination" and takes such complaints seriously.

The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages and that the airline be forced to provide racial and religious sensitivity training to employees and establish culturally sensitive protocols and procedures for handling passenger complaints.

The lawsuit also requests that the company be prohibited from discriminating against passengers and customers based on religion, race, or other traits.

Public interest journalism funded through NZ on Air.