Airline summary judgment motion granted in boarding discrimination case

Dasrath v. Continental Airlines, Inc. (D. N.J. Dec. 22, 2006).  Three months after September 11, an airline captain had three passengers removed from the aircraft during boarding due to his security concerns.  One of the passengers, a U.S. citizen of West Indian national origin, filed a lawsuit against the airline alleging discrimination in violation of federal and state statutes.

The airline moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it was immune from liability under 49 U.S.C. 44902, which “gives airline personnel broad, but not absolute, discretion to remove passengers purportedly for safety reasons” as long as their decisions “have a rational basis in safety.”

The court granted the airline’s motion.  It held that the captain had acted rationally in removing the passenger because there was undisputed evidence linking him to two passengers (who were also removed) who had been repeatedly moving luggage from one overhead bin to another and changing seats, and that the captain had acted solely for security reasons and not due to the passenger’s race.

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