PHOENIX (CN) - A young mother claims Transportation Security Administration agents mocked her for 40 minutes and made her stand in a glass enclosure in front of other airline passengers because she requested an alternate screening process so her breast milk would not be exposed to radiation.
Stacey Armato sued the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA and four TSA agents for false imprisonment, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress and federal torts.
Armato says she was traveling from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 2010 "with breast milk for her 7 month old son's dinner feeding. She requested an alternate screening process for the breast milk so it was not exposed to radiation. Plaintiff even had a printout of the TSA's own guidelines - guidelines that had been in effect since July 20, 2007. These TSA agents, however, remembering her from the week before, retaliated against her for requesting alternate screening of her breast milk. Plaintiff was forced to stand in a glass enclosure in front of all the other passengers for over 40 minutes, where she was frequently harassed and abused by TSA agents. Plaintiff was specifically singled out for no other reason than to humiliate," according to the complaint.
Armato says the TSA employees "at this specific security checkpoint decided to make an example and humiliate plaintiff for filing a complaint against them the week prior."
During the week before, Armato says, she "requested that the same TSA agents, including Does 1-3 and defendant [William] Wiseman perform the 'alternate screening' process for her breast milk, which was considered a 'medical liquid' by the TSA's own guidelines. These same TSA agents, a week prior to February 1, 2010, harassed plaintiff for requesting alternate screening until confirming their own
regulations. After confining plaintiff for approximately 40 minutes and harassing
plaintiff for not simply 'pumping and dumping' her breast milk, the TSA finally
permitted her to pass through security with the 'alternate screening' process for her
breast milk. On that occasion, Plaintiff barely made her flight. Plaintiff filed a complaint with the TSA regarding this incident."
Armato claims that when she asked that her breast milk not be X-rayed, she was placed in a glass "special inspection area" while the TSA employees "looked into" the guidelines on breast milk. The employees refused to allow her to retrieve a copy of the guidelines, which she had in one of her bags, she says.
When she "requested to speak with a manager, her requests were refused and plaintiff was told 'be quiet,' to 'do as she was told' and that she was not to move," according to the complaint.
A police officer was called, and Armato says she tried to explain that "breast milk was classified as a 'medical liquid' and does not need to pass through an X-ray machine."
The officer told her that "the TSA agents were 'waiting for her' because plaintiff had made this request in the past," and "that she should go along with the TSA 'horse and pony show' or he would be forced to arrest her per the TSA's request," according to the complaint.
After standing for 37 minutes in the inspection area, a TSA employee performed a second body inspection of Armato, though she says she had already gone through the X-ray screening. Armato says she was then offered two choices by the employee and William Wiseman, a manager: "put the breast milk through the X-ray machine, or dump it in the trash."
Armato says Wiseman reviewed the TSA guidelines she had printed, but refused her request for alternate screening. She says that when she "pointed out the rule that breast milk is entitled to alternate screening Wiseman stated 'well they aren't today.'"
Armato says Wiseman finally told her "that she could leave the security area and sit on the floor and pour her breast milk into eight 1.5 oz containers, and that plaintiff must repeat the entire security screening process over again."
She says Wiseman took photos of her breast milk and wrote down her name, address and phone number and put it in his pocket.
Armato says she has retrieved most of the footage of this incident on video, but about 30 minutes of tape are missing, "including where Wiseman demanded plaintiff's personal information on a piece of paper which he put in his pocket and kept, as well as the portion where Wiseman photographed plaintiff's breast milk."
According to the TSA website: "Mothers flying with, and without, their child are permitted to bring breast milk in quantities greater than three ounces as long as it is declared for inspection at the security checkpoint."
Armato seeks compensatory and punitive damages for false imprisonment, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is represented by Gregory Patton.