ACLU Sues Four Major Airlines Over Discrimination Against Passengers

June 4, 2002 12:00 am

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Statement of Reginald T. Shuford
ACLU National Staff Attorney


NEW YORK–Today’s five lawsuits against four major airlines challenge the removal of five men from their respective flights. The lawsuits allege that the removals constituted illegal discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Michael Dasrath’s and Edgardo Cureg’s civil rights were violated when they were unceremoniously and unapologetically forced off of Continental Flight #1218 on New Year’s Eve, after a fellow passenger stated that the “brown men are behaving suspiciously.” In ejecting Mr. Dasrath and Mr. Cureg from the flight, the flight crew was not acting in the interest of security. Rather, they were indulging the irrational bias of one passenger, based upon nothing other than Mr. Dasrath’s and Mr. Cureg’s appearance.

We bring these lawsuits because, as a nation, we long ago settled the issue of discrimination. We declared it to be wrong, immoral, and contrary to fundamental American values. We also made it illegal. We decided that every individual should be allowed to participate in every aspect of American society, including in the American economy; to eat at restaurants and stay in hotels; to travel on buses and airplanes, and to enter into contracts — as did Mr. Dasrath and Mr. Cureg with Continental Airlines — free of discrimination. The unfair treatment visited upon Mr. Dasrath and Mr. Cureg, and the three men in the other lawsuits, flies in the face of the closely held principles of equality and fair play.

Some people will ask: Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Absolutely. All of us want to be safe. But, as you will hear from Mr. Dasrath and Mr. Cureg, what happened to these men had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with bias. They were removed from the airplanes and placed on the very next flights. None of the five men was required to undergo any additional security checks whatsoever, and, in some instances, their luggage was even allowed to remain on the airplane.

Some will ask: Isn’t it a bit unpatriotic to complain about a relatively minor inconvenience, given the legitimate need to combat terrorism? But there is nothing patriotic about discrimination, nor is there any honor in suffering it in silence. To the contrary, allowing it to go on unchallenged seriously undermines fundamental American values that we fought so hard to achieve. And for those who experience it, the big deal is that discrimination is never a minor inconvenience.

Flight crews, particularly pilots, already have challenging and demanding jobs. Saddling them with the difficult responsibility of ensuring the security of airplanes and of ejecting “suspicious” passengers in the absence of adequate training on how to identify legitimate security risks is unfair to them and passengers alike.

We file these lawsuits, hoping that they will force the airlines to provide pilots and flight crews with the training they need to navigate this new and uncertain terrain and that they will spare innocent travelers of the needless humiliation experienced by Mr. Dasrath, Mr. Cureg, and the other plaintiffs.

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