'The Customer Is Always Suspicious'
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Virgin America had police detain a passenger on bogus charges - including failing to flush the toilet, the man claims in Federal Court.
Salvatore Bevivino sued Virgin America for racial discrimination, defamation, false imprisonment and six other charges.
Bevivino, a dark-skinned Italian man, claims Virgin suspected him of being Middle Eastern, and jeopardized his job as a business manager for Genentech over what was merely a customer service matter.
Bevivino claims that on an April 28, 2012 flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco has asked a male flight attendant for a soft drink. The steward told him to order it from the screen on the back of the seat in front of him.
Bevivino says he preferred to order from a human, and the attendant walked away. A second attendant acted the same way, Bevivino says in the complaint.
He says he told the stewards that "he assumed he could have drink brought to him like the other airlines and stated to the attendant that he would consider contacting Virgin America about the situation. Then a third flight attendant brought the plaintiff his soft drink."
All this "occurred over a 2 minute period," Bevivino claims. "Plaintiff had no further contact with the flight crew during the flight ... other than to order a meal, which he did by using the touch screen process [as] required. For the balance of the flight the plaintiff purchased Internet access and worked on his laptop."
Imagine his surprise when the plane landed and the pilot pulled him aside as a "person of suspicion." The pilot told him to go with six uniformed officers from the San Francisco Airport Police, the FBI and other federal agencies, Bevivino says.
"The plaintiff went with the officers, whereupon he was segregated and taken into custody against his will, and escorted to a room in front of the other passengers and the crew where he was asked to make a statement," the complaint states. "After being segregated, plaintiff was detained against his will by the officers and was not free to leave and this directly and intentionally and maliciously interfered with the plaintiff's right to move freely and plaintiff felt an apprehension that force would have been inflicted on him if he attempted to leave."
Bevivino told the officers he did not know why he was being detained, and recounted the tale of the soft drink order.
While officers were taking statements from the crew, "the pilot came over to the plaintiff, while he continued to be detained and was not free to leave, and asked him why he had been yelling obscenities at his crew. The plaintiff told the pilot that he did not use any profanities during his brief 2 minute exchange with the crew regarding the soft drink order," the complaint states.
"The plaintiff was then told by the officers that the crew had stated the plaintiff had used the cabin toilet during the flight and that he had failed to flush the toilet after use. The officer then told the plaintiff the matter seemed to be a customer service issue and then the officers gave the plaintiff a release form and told him that he was free to leave."
Bevivino claims the police report states that the pilot said that at no time did his crew feel threatened by Bevivino.
He claims that Virgin America, through the pilot, "acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner with respect to this customer service matter."
He claims that he contacted Virgin America after being released from custody "and learned that it is the custom and policy of this airline to provide one-on-one soft drink service to passengers when requested."
"Plaintiff was pulled aside and subsequently detained and interrogated by police against his will at defendant's direction as a person of suspicion based on his ancestry, and a mistaken national origin basis given that plaintiff has an appearance as being a person of Middle Eastern ethnicity and origin. Such action in itself was arbitrary and capricious and not based on any rational or reasonable basis, was without justification, and violated plaintiff's civil rights," the complaint states.
Now, he adds, he is "subject to ongoing security checks by his employer" and his "employment may be threatened as a consequence of the police and federal agency actions described in this complaint."
Bevivino asked for $500,000 in damages, costs and punitive damages.
He is represented by Patricia Barlow.