Unfortunately we hear of cases of sexual harassment on planes more often than we should. When flying, people are often “trapped” next to strangers for extended periods of time, there’s alcohol, and people often act in ways that they shouldn’t.
However, this is definitely one of the more unusual airline sexual harassment cases I’ve heard of…
NFL player sues United Airlines
An NFL player who doesn’t want to release his identity (he’s simply described as an African American male) claims that a middle aged Caucasian female repeatedly sexually harassed, assaulted, and violated him throughout the flight, and the crew did nothing to protect him. There’s another man who was seated in the same row who is making similar claims.
Apparently the passengers complained to flight attendants four times before they took action. They claim that the woman was making “unwanted sexual advances,” including:
- The first time the men alerted the flight attendants that the woman was disruptive, belligerent, and intoxicated
- The second time the men alerted the flight attendants was when the woman started making unwanted sexual advances towards the NFL player, massaging his knees and thighs
- The third time the men alerted the flight attendants was more than an hour into the flight, when the woman grabbed and groped the NFL player
- The fourth time the men alerted flight attendants was when the woman pulled off the “protective face mask” the NFL player was wearing, and grabbed his genitals
At this point the NFL player got up from his seat and complained loudly in front of the plane. He then went to the rear of the aircraft to complain to the flight attendants, at which point the woman was reseated.
The two men are suing United Airlines because the airline refused to follow policies to respond to sexual harassment and assault, and the airline also refused to give them the name of the woman, the flight attendants, and potential witnesses. They claim this is a breach of United Airlines’ duty to protect and care for passengers.
The two men are seeking unspecified statutory and punitive damages from the airline.
What the law firm behind the lawsuit says
The two men are being represented by The Darwish Law Firm, which released a statement saying the following:
We bring this lawsuit with the hope that it will be one of the last of its kind. Our wish would be that in the future no passenger’s multiple warnings and complaints to flight attendants, the onboard authority figure, will go unheard until it’s too late and the damage has been done. This matter is unfortunately based on several instances of assault — physical, sexual, and verbal — on a “red-eye” United Airlines, Inc. flight. Instances that could have been prevented, if not the harm reduced, had United’s personnel simply taken action sooner.
In-flight sexual assaults continue to be an ongoing problem during commercial flights, particularly during “red-eye” flights. In 2018, the FBI issued strict warnings to airlines, including United, about the number of sexual assaults increasing ‘at an alarming rate.’ United has an obligation to keep its passengers safe.
This matter is about accountability; not just from United but the assailant as well. Those with a duty to others should be held accountable for their failures to uphold their responsibilities. Those who report assaults should not be ignored, but believed, their claims investigated, and appropriate action taken where warranted.
Our goal is to shine a light on how assaults can, and are, being made on men, and not just women. This is significant because assault is assault, regardless of the gender, race, and physical attributes of the victim. Once these characteristics are added into the equation, the usual stigma and social stereotypes associated with sexual assaults are amplified.
This is definitely an unconventional airplane sexual harassment story, since these cases almost always involve men acting inappropriately towards females.
If the claims here are accurate, it’s completely unacceptable that the crew didn’t reseat the passenger despite repeated complaints.
I can’t even figure out why they wouldn’t have taken this seriously. Were they just assuming that the victim was being “playful” and joking about it, and didn’t mind it, or how can one complain multiple times about something like this without the crew taking it seriously?
(Tip of the hat to Mike)