A National Football League player contends in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against United Airlines that he was sexually assaulted by a female passenger on a redeye flight in February from Los Angeles International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport.
The football player and a second plaintiff did not give their names in the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The plaintiffs, both African American men, were sitting in the middle and aisle seats in the same row during United Flight 415 on Feb. 10 when a middle-aged white female passenger in the window seat made unwanted sexual advances toward them, the lawsuit said.
The football player and the other man complained several times to the flight attendants, according to the suit, which contends that United employees initially failed to intervene and that the woman became belligerent. She had turned particularly confrontational over a face mask worn by the player, who was identified as John Doe 1 and a New Jersey resident, the lawsuit said.
“While touching John Doe 1’s face, assailant grabbed John Doe 1’s penis and ripped off his face mask,” the lawsuit said.
The men are suing United Airlines for sexual assault and battery, as well as for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The suit contends that the airline refused to provide the names of the female passenger, the flight attendants and potential witnesses to lawyers for the two men.
A spokeswoman for the airline said in an email Wednesday that the passenger involved was moved to a different seat, which the lawsuit also noted.
“The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority,” said the spokeswoman, Rachael L. Rivas, who declined to comment further because of the lawsuit.
Lawyers for the player and the other man did not say Wednesday why the suit was filed anonymously.
The lawsuit said that the unruly passenger had been under the influence of alcohol and drugs during the flight and that she began harassing the player about his face mask as soon as she boarded the plane in Los Angeles.
“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,” the lawsuit said. “John Doe 1 respectfully responded that he was not sick and was being proactive, especially in the wake of the growing COVID-19 concerns at that time.”
The woman then started to grope and massage the player’s knees and thighs, the lawsuit said.
“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,” the lawsuit said.
The woman then reached inside the player’s jacket and caressed his chest, and when he got up to complain to flight attendants, the lawsuit said, she began grabbing the leg and groin area of the other plaintiff.
The two men were each given $150 vouchers by the airline, which had to move the woman at least one more time to an empty row because she was still unruly, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks relief and damages for “past, present and future lost earnings,” but does not specify an amount.
“As you know, with sexual assault, or any assault for that matter, it is hard to quantify the harm suffered,” Darren D. Darwish, a lawyer for the two men, wrote in an email on Wednesday. “At this time, we do not have a dollar amount available for comment, but will say that we are seeking justice and compensation, including punitive damages, for what our clients had to endure.”
“Accountability and responsibility are at the core of our justice system,” he said. “We seek to hold accountable those who have harmed our clients through their direct or indirect actions.”