LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge dismissed the discrimination claims of a woman of Iranian descent, who was removed from a flight to Los Angeles after she refused to stow her Chihuahua and demanded that her mink jacket be hung in a closet instead of stuffed in an overhead bin.
U.S. District Judge Gary Feess ruled that the captain had properly relied on what he was told in making the decision to have Elina Shaffy taken off the plane.
In April 2006, Shaffy bought a ticket to fly United from Denver to Los Angeles, with a scheduled stopover in Las Vegas. From the beginning, Shaffy’s interactions with United officials were contentious to say the least.
Problems started with an issue regarding Shaffy’s Chihuahua. A ticketing agent allegedly accused Shaffy of trying to sneak her dog on the plane, and Shaffy eventually bought a boarding pass for the dog.
The confrontation only escalated when the ticketing agent refused to let her use a credit card to buy the boarding pass, because the signature on the card did not match the signature on her driver’s license.
Eventually Shaffy was permitted to buy a ticket with her credit card, but she became irate when she was ordered to check certain luggage because she was over the carry-on limit. Problems continued to multiply when she demanded that her mink jacket be hung in a closet and was told it would have to be stored in an overhead bin.
In the end Shaffy made the flight. According to her, she was told only once during the flight that her dog had to be in its carrier while the plane was in the air. However, flight attendants claimed they had to repeatedly tell Shaffy that the dog could not be out of its carrier, and the captain was told of the disturbances caused by Shaffy and her dog.
Capt. Mike Lacey made the decision to have Shaffy removed from the flight when it reached Las Vegas. She was escorted off the plane, and eventually sued United claiming she was removed because she is of Iranian descent. Judge Feess granted United’s motion for summary judgment.
“The parties dispute how many times Shaffy was notified and how many times she had the dog out of its carrier. However, the court need not determine exactly what happened in the passenger cabin because the critical question to be addressed on this motion is what information was known to the captain who made the decision to have her removed from the aircraft.
“Both the (flight) purser and captain Lacey assert that they had no idea that Shaffy was Iranian or Middle Eastern prior to learning about this lawsuit. Shaffy offers no admissible evidence to contradict these statements. Moreover, the photographic evidence reveals nothing in her clothing or physical appearance that would suggest that Shaffy was of Middle Eastern descent.
“The reasonableness of the carrier’s opinion is to be tested on the information available to the airline at the moment a decision is required. That is the sole consideration in determining whether the decision to deny passage was appropriate. There is correspondingly no duty to conduct an in-depth investigation into a ticket-holder’s potentially dangerous proclivities. The question is whether a reasonably prudent decision-maker could rationally form the opinion that a passenger’s presence on the aircraft might be inimical to the safety of the flight. Thus, safety takes precedence in this limited and unique arena.
“Before any of the problems arose during the flight, captain Lacey had overheard Shaffy addressing the crew’s purser in a hostile and disrespectful manner as Shaffy boarded the aircraft. Even Shaffy does not dispute that the confrontation occurred or that she complained bitterly when the purser insisted that she check at least some of the items she was carrying on. In this way Shaffy made a poor impression upon first entering the aircraft, which lent credibility to later calls to captain Lacey advising that Shaffy was refusing to follow instructions.
“Once the aircraft was in the air and on the way to Las Vegas, captain Lacey received multiple calls from various members of the flight crew regarding Shaffy’s recalcitrance. Based on these calls, captain Lacey rationally concluded that he had a problem passenger aboard and that her refusal to comply with reasonable requests constituted a potential safety threat and justified her removal from the aircraft.
“Shaffy has presented no evidence on the number of calls captain Lacey did or did not receive and is in no position to dispute that aspect of his testimony and declaration. Even if there is disagreement as to how many times she had the dog out of the carrier, and how many times she was instructed to keep the dog in, the existence of that disagreement does not negate or undermine the pilot’s statement regarding the number of contacts he had with the crew regarding Shaffy’s conduct.
“Moreover, even if the crew’s complaints were exaggerated, the captain had no choice but to rely on the information that the crew provided him.
“For the foregoing reasons set forth above, the court grants United’s motion for summary judgment.”
Plaintiff is represented by Scott Myer at the Myer Law Firm. Defendant is represented by Gregory Anderson at Dwyer Daly et al.