An NFL player who has remained anonymous has sued United Airlines and its flight attendants after he said a woman groped him during a flight and attendants didn’t appropriately respond to his complaints.
The plaintiff, an “African American male adult and professional athlete in the National Football League” from Essex, New Jersey, said he was on a flight to Newark Liberty International Airport on Feb. 10 when a “middle-aged Caucasian female” who he believed to be intoxicated repeatedly touched him inappropriately on his genitals, thigh, chest and face, according to the civil suit. The woman also allegedly “ripped off” the plaintiff’s face mask, which he was wearing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday says the plaintiff’s traveling companion, an African American man from Philadelphia, alerted a flight attendant to the woman’s behavior but was ignored. The NFL player said he also complained to multiple flight attendants about the incident and they gave the woman a verbal warning. After four requests, the lawsuit says, the woman was moved to a different row of the plane.
Los Angeles-based attorneys Darwish Law Firm and Azizian Law are representing the NFL player in his lawsuit. The firms issued a joint statement Wednesday condemning United Airlines’ handling of the incident.
“In-flight sexual assaults continue to be an ongoing problem during commercial flights, particularly during ‘red-eye’ flights,” the firms wrote. “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.”
Darwish Law and Azizian Law continued, “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.”
In a statement provided to TheWrap, United said, “The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority. In this instance, the customer involved was moved to a different seat. Because litigation is now pending, we’re unable to provide further comment.”
The NFL player is seeking court supervision of United and its flight attendants and employees as well as monetary damages of at least $4,000. In a statement to TheWrap, the representing firms stressed that they are treating the incident as a “civil matter.”
“Although we might feel the assailant’s actions were criminal, we are not in a position to seek such redress. As you know, with sexual assault, or any assault for that matter, it is hard to quantify the harm suffered. At this time, we do not have a dollar amount available for comment, but will say that we are seeking justice and compensation, including punitive damages, for what our clients had to endure. Accountability and responsibility are at the core of our justice system. We seek to hold accountable those who have harmed our clients through their direct or indirect actions,” the firms said.
Bleacher Report was first to report news of the lawsuit.