HOUSTON (CN) — An Orthodox Jewish couple says in a federal lawsuit that they were kicked off an American Airlines plane because the pilot claimed, falsely, that they had offensive body odor.
The couple says the airline defamed them with false statements to the press that several passengers and crew members had complained that they smelled.
Yehuda Yosef Adler and his wife Jennie Adler say they had just settled into their seats with their 19-month-old daughter in Miami for a flight home to Detroit when an American Airlines gate agent came up and told Mr. Adler: “Sir, there’s an emergency and you must deplane.”
The Adlers say they had showered that morning, so they were shocked when they were told the pilot was kicking them off the Jan. 23, 2019, flight because of their body odor.
They sued American Airlines on Tuesday, seeking punitive damages for civil rights violations, negligence, infliction of emotional distress and defamation.
They are represented by Nwadi Nwogu with the Odunze Nwogu Law Group of Houston.
The couple says they told the gate agent they had never received any complaints about their hygiene on airplanes.
“In response, defendant’s agent made disparaging and derogatory statements telling the Adlers that he knew that Orthodox Jews take baths once a week,” the complaint states.
Dizzy with embarrassment, the couple says, they approached people at the jet bridge gate and asked them if they smelled bad. “Each and every person (more than 20 people) answered in the negative,” according to the complaint.
The Adlers say the airline staff rebuffed their pleas to be allowed back on the plane or to get their luggage, and it took off with their daughter’s car seat, stroller and diapers.
The pilot had a problem with them as soon as they stepped on the plane, Yehuda Adler says.
He says he asked the stewardess for headphones and explained that due to issues with a flight the family was on the day before the crew had told passengers that if they need headphones on their the next flight to feel free to ask for them.
Adler, who wears a yarmulke, says the pilot butted in, stating: “I wasn’t on that plane and we don’t offer anything complimentary.”
Adler pulled out his cellphone after they were removed from the flight and filmed his conversation with the gate agent, and NBC News posted the footage in a Jan. 24, 2019 report.
Adler says on the video: “There’s a religious reason for some reason that they’re kicking me off the plane. We don’t have odor, OK? Nobody here has odor.”
As Adler demands a report from the airline telling him why he was kicked off the plane, the gate agent says: “Now. you told me for religious reasons you don’t shower. Is that what you said?”
Adler: “No, I didn’t! I shower every day. I said you kicked me off because of religious reasons.”
The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and the Times of Israel also published stories in January 2019 about the incident.
American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours Tuesday. But it told media outlets at the time that it paid for a hotel room for the family then put them on a flight to Detroit the next day.
“Our Miami airport team members were concerned about the comfort of our other passengers due to the odor,” an American Airlines spokesman told the Miami Herald.
Other U.S. airlines have faced similar legal claims. A Nigerian woman filed a racial discrimination complaint against United Airlines after she was removed from a plane in Houston in 2016, allegedly due to body odor complaints.
The Adlers also seek attorney fees.