CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) – Two Islamic imams are filing a lawsuit against Delta Airlines and its partner carrier that claims that a pilot refused to allow the pair to stay on a May flight headed to Charlotte, claiming that the airline removed them for the way they looked.
A lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the United Firm of Carolina Law on behalf of Imams Masudir Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul will be made against Delta and Atlantic Southeast Airlines later today in Memphis, stemming from a security incident in May. According to the lawsuit obtained by CBS Charlotte, the pilot for Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 5452 from Memphis to Charlotte refused to let Rahman and Zaghloul stay on the May 6 flight despite being cleared twice by TSA.
After the plane had pushed back from the gate, the pilot announced that the plane would be returning to it. Upon return, the pilot ordered that Rahman, an Arabic-language adjunct professor at the University of Memphis, and Zaghloul, a religious leader at the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis, to get off the plane, according to the lawsuit. Dressed in traditional Muslim attire, including religious garb and headgear, TSA agents would search their bags again and conducted another comprehensive body pat-down.
Even with these additional security checks, a Delta supervisor informed Rahman and Zaghloul that the pilot was still not allowing them to board the plane, adding that the pilot refused to articulate a reason for denying their entry onto the flight.
“[The pilot] is wrong,” a Delta supervisor said to the pair about the pilot’s actions, according to the lawsuit.
As Rahman and Zaghloul were waiting for a higher-ranking Delta employee to address the situation, the plane left the gate and departed without the two Islamic imams, according to the lawsuit. The pilot reportedly made an announcement to the other passengers starting that if any passengers felt apprehensive about flying with Rahman or Zaghloul, they could choose to take a later flight and receive “a generous voucher.”
“We do think that this of discrimination was fairly obvious,” Attorney Gadeir Abbas, representing Rahman and Zaghloul for the United Firm of Carolina Law, told CBS Charlotte. “The pilot didn’t even articulate it as a security threat. He articulated [the problem] as a discomfort with the presence of two Immans on the plane.”
He added: “I think it’s an unfortunate sign of the times.”
ASA responded to the incident in a statement to WBTV. Messages left by CBS Charlotte for Delta were not immediately returned.
“Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 5452 from Memphis to Charlotte returned to the gate to allow for additional screening of a passenger and the passenger’s companion. We take security and safety very seriously,” an ASA spokesperson said in the written statement. “Compensation and re-accommodation on the next available flight were immediately offered to the passenger and the passenger’s travel companion. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.”
Delta and ASA face a bevy of discrimination charges. Other charges include refusal to transport passengers and property, discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and slander. The lawsuit doesn’t state what kinds of damages the men are seeking.
The men were headed to Charlotte for a conference on Islamophobia, a conference that would look at specific incidents in which Muslims were singled out or had faced prejudice.
“There is this pervasive anti-Muslim bias that’s contributing to the phenomenon that’s called ‘Flying while Muslim,’” Abbas said. “There is this emerging expectation that Muslims while traveling are subject to extra scrutiny because of their faith.”
The legal counsel representing the two men will hold a news conference to announce the lawsuit this afternoon in Memphis.