An unnamed NFL player alleges he was sexually harassed and assaulted by a female passenger on a February flight, and he’s suing United Airlines over the incident.
The civil lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, seeks unspecified damages, according to a copy of the suit posted online by The Guardian.
The player is not identified by name, but the lawsuit describes him as “an African American male adult and professional athlete in the National Football League (NFL) residing in the City of Hazlet, County of Monmouth, State of New Jersey.”
The lawsuit alleges United’s flight attendants failed to adequately respond to the incident, which took place on a flight from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey. The incident involved the player, identified in court papers as JOHN DOE 1, and a second passenger, identified as JOHN DOE 2.
The suit accuses United of “failing to implement and enforce appropriate policies and procedures to prevent, or properly respond to, sexual assaults that occur on its flights; failing to report in-flight sexual assaults to the proper authorities, or to any authorities; and failing to cooperate with authorities in the reporting and investigation process into in-flight sexual assaults.”
The lawsuit says the woman, identified in the court papers as “ASSAILANT,” was “disheveled and unbalanced” when she came on board the plane.
“As ASSAILANT took her seat, she began harassing JOHN DOE 1, who was wearing a face mask in light of the news coverage he had heard regarding the prevalence and transmission of COVID-19, amongst other germs and diseases that might be passed or circulated on an airplane,” the suit says.
“ASSAILANT began hitting JOHN DOE 1’s arm and elbowing him. ASSAILANT accosted JOHN DOE 1 and told him that he was ‘frightening,’ ordered him to move to the front and use the air in the front of the plane because he was sick, and questioned why JOHN DOE 1 had a mask on. JOHN DOE 1 respectfully responded that he was not sick and was being proactive, especially in wake of the growing COVID-19 concerns at that time,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit said the situation escalated as time went on.
“ASSAILANT groped and massaged JOHN DOE 1’s knees and thighs. Fearful of the perception of being a male victim and the racial stigma of being a young African American male, JOHN DOE 1 patiently pleaded for ASSAILANT to stop and removed her hand. ASSAILANT’s actions were so inappropriate that JOHN DOE 2 quickly went to ROE 2 to notify him again of ASSAILANT’s inappropriate behavior,” the suit says. “ROE 2” is an unnamed flight attendant.
The request for intervention was ignored, according to the lawsuit.
“Approximately 75 minutes after the scheduled departure, ASSAILANT intensified her sexual assault and abuse of JOHN DOE 1 and continued to make unwanted sexual advances and engage in verbal and/or physical conduct of a sexual nature towards JOHN DOE 1. ASSAILANT starred at JOHN DOE 1 while grabbing and groping his quads and then stroking her hand across his lap towards the inside of his leg near his genitals,” the lawsuit says.
“JOHN DOE 1 immediately removed ASSAILANT’s hand and pleaded to ROE 3, who was walking past and overheard JOHN DOE 1 complaining. ROE 3 witnessed ASSAILANT’s inappropriate conduct and simply issued a verbal warning to ASSAILANT,” the suit says. “ROE 3” is another unnamed flight attendant.
Things didn’t stop there, according to the suit.
“After ASSAILANT turned away towards the window, JOHN DOE 1 believed he was finally able to rest. Unfortunately, ASSAILANT put her hand through JOHN DOE 1’s jacket and caressed his chest and pecs working her way up to his face. While touching JOHN DOE 1’s face, ASSAILANT grabbed JOHN DOE 1’s penis and ripped off his face mask,” the lawsuit says.
“JOHN DOE 1 jumped up from his seat and complained in front of the entire plane that ASSAILANT is ‘touching me.’ JOHN DOE 1, embarrassed and uncomfortable, rushed to notify ROE 2, who at the time was in the rear of the plane. While JOHN DOE 1 went to go notify ROE 2, ASSAILANT moved over to the middle seat (JOHN DOE 1’s seat) and sexually assaulted JOHN DOE 2 by grabbing his leg and groin area,” the suit says.
The lawsuit said that after this incident, the flight attendant identified as ROE 2 moved the woman to another row.
“PLAINTIFFS are informed and believe that ASSAILANT was moved a second time for being disruptive yet again and finally moved to a row with no other passengers,” the lawsuit says.
“UNITED’s failure to have and/or enforce adequate policies and procedures for the prevention of and response to in-flight sexual assaults is a breach of its affirmative duty to protect and care for its passengers,” the lawsuit argued.
Attorneys Darren Darwish and Benji Azizian, who filed the suit, released a statement.
The unidentified NFL player and “John Doe 2” are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
A statement I received from attorneys Darren Darwish and Benji Azizian: pic.twitter.com/5LxX2BblLr
— Master (@MasterTes) May 20, 2020
“Our goal is to shine a light on how assaults can, and are, being made on men, and not just women,” the statement said, in part. “This is significant because assault is assault, regardless of the gender, race, and physical attributes of the victim.”
According to TMZ Sports, United issued a statement of its own, saying, “The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority.”
“In this instance, the customer involved was moved to a different seat,” the airline said. “Because litigation is now pending, we’re unable to provide further comment.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.