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Muslim woman sues Southwest Airlines for discrimination

Airline defends actions as precautionary, not prejudiced

Irum Abassi, a Muslim-American psychology student, is suing Southwest Airlines for discrimination after being ejected from a flight in March.

Abassi, who was flying from San Diego to San Jose, Calif., where she attends graduate school, was escorted off the plane and searched by a Transportation Security Administration official when a flight attendant became concerned over a conversation she was having on the phone. Abassi says she said into her cellphone, “I have to go,” but the flight attendant believed she said, “It’s a go.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations-California filed the discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Abassi, who alleges that Southwest flight attendants removed her because she was wearing the traditional Islamic head scarf, hijab, not because of her behavior on the phone.

A Southwest spokesman, Chris Mainz, said the airline’s actions were solely a safety response to Abassi’s disconcerting behavior on the phone. He affirmed the airline’s commitment to diversity.

"We have a vast, diverse workforce, and we celebrate diversity among our employees and our customers,” said Mainz. “We do not discriminate against anyone for any reason, and we've been recognized as a leader for our diversity and care for all of our customers throughout our 40 years of service.”

However, this is not the first time Southwest has fended these types of allegations, MSNBC reported. The company removed a gay couple from a plane last week when they were kissing, and also made Green Day singer Billy Joe Armstrong and a college football player deplane for wearing pants that were allegedly too baggy. Southwest also removed a woman from a plane for wearing revealing clothing a number of years ago. 

Danielle Feinstein

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