CHICAGO (CN) – A Muslim couple from the north suburbs of Chicago filed a federal lawsuit against United Airlines, accusing it of discrimination after their family was booted from an airplane last year over a child booster seat.
On March 20, 2016, Mohamad and Eaman Shebley and their three children boarded a United Airlines flight at O’Hare International Airport departing for Washington, D.C., where they planned to spend their spring break together as a family.
During preparations for departure, Eaman, a Lebanese-American woman who wears an Islamic head scarf, asked a stewardess for over-the–shoulder straps for her youngest child, who sat next to her in a booster seat, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Chicago federal lawsuit.
But the couple says they didn’t get the straps nor was their child allowed to sit in the booster.
“Eaman, now a little confused, stated that she was not aware that she could not use the car seat booster, especially since plaintiffs were allowed to bring it on to the plane with them after being checked-in at the gate by defendants’ own staff,” the complaint states.
The family was then asked to leave the plane by a flight attendant, who then left without answering questions, according to the lawsuit.
Mohamad claims he responded by saying that all he did was ask about the straps for his child.
The Shebleys say their family was unfairly targeted, given that they had followed all the instructions, removed the booster seat and were not being provided an explanation as to why they had to leave the plane.
Frustrated and sensing the futility of their efforts to obtain an answer from the flight crew or captain, and not wanting to cause any further emotional or psychological damage to their three young children, the family left the plane, the complaint states.
They were placed on another United flight to Washington, D.C., after walking to the other side of the airport, according to the lawsuit.
A video of the encounter between the Shebleys and members of the United flight crew has surfaced online. The video begins with a flight attendant asking the family to step off the place.
“Is this a discriminatory decision?” Eaman can be heard asking the pilot. “What is the reason?”
“It is a safety of flight issue,” the pilot responded.
United Airlines released a statement over the weekend, saying that “both SkyWest and United hold our employees to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination. We have not yet been served with the suit and cannot comment further on this pending litigation.”
The Shebleys seek compensatory and punitive damages for claims of race, national original or religious discrimination.
They are represented by Phillip J. Robertson with the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago, and by Maaria Mozaffar in Naperville, Ill.