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UPenn Student Sues JetBlue Claiming Racial Profiling

File photo of a JetBlue plane taking off from New York. (Getty Images)
  • United States

    An Indian American undergraduate student currently attending the University of Pennsylvania has filed a civil rights lawsuit against JetBlue Airways Corp., accusing the airline of racial profiling for forcibly removing him from a flight from New York to Portland, Ore., in July 2011.

    Ram Narayan, 21, of Beaverton, Ore., filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Portland.

    According to the complaint, the Indian American student had taken his seat on Flight 165 and had fallen asleep when he was awakened by airline employee Reynaldo Rosario, who asked Narayan if he had booked his flight with a “dark-skinned” man seated in the row behind him.

    Narayan said he didn’t know the man and that they hadn’t booked the flight together.

    Nevertheless, Narayan, the dark-skinned man and a third dark-skinned man were removed from the plane by JetBlue employees, “as passengers glared at them,” according to a Portland Oregonian article. 

    The three were informed by JetBlue that their records showed they booked their flight together.

    Narayan was not allowed to book another flight, had to stay overnight at the airport and caught a Delta flight home costing him $544.70, according to the complaint.

    A JetBlue spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit, telling the Oregonian that the airline doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

    Narayan’s attorney, Brandon Mayfield, told India-West May 14 that JetBlue’s behavior was a “classic case” of a person being discriminated against because of his “brown” skin color.

    Mayfield would not provide a copy of the lawsuit, but said it could be obtained at the district court, which could not be accomplished by press deadline.

    However, he told India-West that his client spent 18 hours in New York without any meal vouchers or lodging assistance from JetBlue.

    The lawsuit alleges post-9/11 discrimination was a factor in Narayan’s removal from the plane.

    Mayfield also said that it was not “the first time, a (9/11-related incident) happened with JetBlue,” but he declined to comment any further on the lawsuit.

    The attorney referred to a previous case involving an Iraq-born architect, Raed Jarra, who was forced to sit in the back of a JetBlue flight and cover up his T-Shirt that read in Arabic and English, “We will not be silent.” In January 2009, JetBlue paid $240,000 to settle the case.

    Incidentally, Mayfield previously filed a lawsuit against the federal government when he was wrongly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004.

    The U.S. later apologized and settled part of the lawsuit for $2 million after admitting a fingerprint was misread.

    As part of the settlement, Mayfield, a Muslim convert, retained the right to challenge parts of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the authority of the government to investigate suspected acts of terrorism.

    Two provisions of the USA Patriot Act were later ruled unconstitutional by a district court because they allow search warrants to be issued without a showing of probable cause. The federal government appealed that decision, which was overturned in December 2009 by another court.

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