For Immediate Release
TSA Officials and JetBlue Pay $240,000 to Settle Discrimination Charges
US Resident Was Kept off Plane for Shirt With Arabic Writing
NEW YORK - In
a victory for constitutional rights, two Transportation Security
Authority (TSA) officials and JetBlue Airways have paid Raed Jarrar
$240,000 to settle charges that they illegally discriminated against
the U.S. resident based on his ethnicity and the Arabic writing on his
t-shirt. TSA and JetBlue officials prevented Jarrar from boarding his
August 2006 flight at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport until he
agreed to cover his shirt, which read "We Will Not Be Silent" in
English and Arabic, and then forced him to sit at the back of the
plane. The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil
Liberties Union filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Jarrar's behalf
in August 2007.
"The outcome of this case is a
victory for free speech and a blow to the discriminatory practice of
racial profiling," said Aden Fine, senior staff attorney with the ACLU
First Amendment Working Group and lead attorney on the case. "This
settlement should send a clear message to all TSA officials and
airlines that they cannot discriminate against passengers based on
their race or the ethnic content of their speech."
On August 12, 2006, Jarrar was
waiting to board a JetBlue flight from New York to his home in Oakland,
California, when he was approached by two TSA officials. One of them
told Jarrar that he needed to remove his shirt because other passengers
were not comfortable with the Arabic script, telling him that wearing a
shirt with Arabic writing on it to an airport was like "wearing a
t-shirt at a bank stating, ‘I am a robber.'"
Jarrar asserted his First Amendment
right to wear the shirt, but eventually relented to the pressure from
the TSA officials and two JetBlue officials who surrounded Jarrar in
the gate area and made it clear to him that he would not be able to get
on the plane until he covered up his shirt. Terrified about what they
would do to him, Jarrar reluctantly covered up his shirt with a new
t-shirt purchased for him by JetBlue. The lawsuit later revealed that
JetBlue and the TSA officials did not consider Jarrar to be a security
threat. Nevertheless, even after he put the new shirt on, Jarrar was
allowed to board the plane only after JetBlue changed his seat from the
front of the plane to the very back.
"All people in this country have the
right to be free of discrimination and to express their own opinions,"
said Jarrar, who is currently employed with the American Friends
Service Committee, an organization committed to peace and social
justice. "With this outcome, I am hopeful that TSA and airlines
officials will think twice before practicing illegal discrimination and
that other travelers will be spared the treatment I endured."
"As last week's refusal by AirTran
Airways to allow a Muslim family that posed no security risk to fly
shows, what happened to Mr. Jarrar is not an isolated incident," said
Reggie Shuford, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice
Program. "Transportation officials have the important responsibility of
ensuring that all flights are safe, but there is no reason that safety
can't be achieved while at the same time upholding the civil rights and
liberties of all airline passengers. We hope this lawsuit and its
successful result will serve as a powerful reminder that discrimination
is against the law."
TSA and JetBlue agreed to settle the case for $240,000 late last month and delivered the settlement to Jarrar on Friday.
In addition to Fine, attorneys in this case are Nusrat Choudhury of the ACLU Racial Justice Program and Palyn Hung of the NYCLU.
Raed Jarrar is available to speak
with members of the press. More information about the case, including a
video featuring Jarrar, is online at: www.aclu.org/wewillnotbesilent
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.