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Citizen-Muslim Sues Southwest Airlines

SAN DIEGO (CN) - In the latest complaint of discrimination on airlines, a U.S. citizen-Muslim of Pakistani descent says she was booted off a Southwest flight because a stewardess claimed she heard her say, "It's a go," on her cell phone. Actually, Irum Abbasi says, she said, "I've got to go," because the plane was preparing for departure.

Abbasi, a graduate student in psychology at San Jose State, claims Southwest Airlines kicked her off a March 13 flight from San Diego to San Jose because of the stewardess' complaint. She says she was "readily identifiable as Muslim by what she wore" on Flight 1950: "a long shirt, pants, sweater and hijab, or Islamic headscarf."

She says she was selected for secondary screening after passing through a metal detector, patted down, and allowed to board the flight.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 8:15 a.m. At 8:17 a.m., the pilot announced there would be an "administrative delay."

A Transportation Security Authority agent then came aboard and pulled her off the plane.

Abbasi says that a 3-minute conversation with the TSA agent persuaded him that she was "no security risk," and that the door to Flight 1950 was still open, but she was not allowed to reboard "because the crew was 'uncomfortable' with her on the plane, and that the captain had discretion to make that final call."

She says she told the TSA agent "that failure to make that flight would cause her to miss a critical research experiment that she was conducting," and for which she had come to San Diego. But she was not allowed to reboard, and was given a voucher for the 10:55 a.m. flight.

She says she arrived at San Jose State at 1:25 p.m., almost 4 hours late, 25 minutes after her experiment was to begin, by which time most of her subjects had left.

She says Southwest's discrimination was "intentional, malicious, willful, wanton [and] callous."

She seeks punitive damages for discrimination based on race, religion, color, ethnicity, alienage, ancestry, and/or national origin, breach of contract, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

She is represented by James McElroy of Del Mar, and Ameena Mirza Qazi, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, of Anaheim.

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