An Arabic-language professor at the University of Memphis and a Memphis-area Islamic religious leader have filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines Inc. and a partner airline over being kicked off a flight departing Memphis earlier this year.
Parts of the suit are written in a conversational style in recounting details of the incident. The first sentence reads: “On May 6, 2011, in their attempt to attend a national conference about countering the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry, Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul … came face-to-face with the discrimination they hoped to learn how to diminish.”
Rahman is an Arabic-language adjunct professor at the U of M and is originally from Pakistan. He lives in Memphis.
Zaghloul is a religious leader at the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis and is originally from Egypt. He also lives in Memphis.
Representing the two men are lawyers from a North Carolina firm as well as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The men, who were seated temporarily on the plane several rows apart from each other, have asked for a jury trial and are seeking damages of an unspecified amount.
Defendants named in the suit are Delta and Atlantic Southeast Airlines Inc., which contracts with Delta as a connecting carrier.
The two men were traveling from Memphis to Charlotte, N.C., to attend a conference hosted by the North American Imams Federation. They arrived at Memphis International Airport May 6 in traditional Muslim attire, including religious headgear and garb.
Both men “had beards, wore traditional Arabic clothing and were visibly foreign,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit explains both men at first went through the terminal’s security checkpoint and got an additional pat down once in the terminal.
Because they also were “searched invasively subsequent to being escorted off the plane, Delta and ASA cannot claim – with a straight face, at least – that Mr. Rahman and Mr. Zaghloul posed any type of security threat,” according to the suit.
A Transportation Security Administration spokesman told reporters after the incident happened that the men had been screened and cleared to fly, and that the decision to deny boarding was made by the airline and not the TSA.
“Once seated, both plaintiffs exchanged pleasantries with the passengers seated next to each of them,” the suit reads. “At no time, did either plaintiff sense that any passenger felt uncomfortable with or by either of them – whether by their appearances, their conduct, or otherwise.”
However, “the pilot indicated that he believed the mere presence and perception of the plaintiffs on his plane would make other passengers feel uncomfortable.”