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Pan Am Settles ACLU Discrimination Suit;
Airline's Insurers To Pay $110,000
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 21, 1993
Pan American World Airways agreed today to pay $110,000 to settle a
discrimination lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on
behalf of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and an
American citizen of Iranian descent who was detained by airline agents
during the Persian Gulf War.
The passenger, Mohammad Ghonoudian, was forcibly removed from a Pan
Am flight from Miami to New York on February 1, 1991, and was interrogated
and body searched during a three-hour ordeal solely because -- as one Pan
Am security agent told him -- he fit the profile of a "terrorist."
"I was humiliated and felt that I had been stripped of all my rights
as a citizen and was left with nothing," said Ghonoudian, a fine art
photographer from New York City.
"No amount of monetary damages can compensate for ethnic stereotyping
that deprives individuals of their basic civil rights," said Lucas
Guttentag, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "But this
settlement demonstrates that security must never be used as an excuse for
The ACLU, joined by the ADC, had drawn upon the experience of
Ghonoudian and others to illustrate Pan Am's harassment of people who
appeared to be of Arab descent and were taking domestic and international
flights on the now-defunct airline during the height of the Gulf War. The
lawsuit discussed ADC monitoring of Pan Am ticket counters at Washington
National Airport during which numerous travelers of Arab appearance were
subjected to special scrutiny, search and interrogation, while non-Arab
appearing people were allowed to purchase tickets, process luggage and
board airplanes without any trouble.
The lawsuit filed in federal District Court in Manhattan charged that
Pan Am's policy violated the Federal Aviation Act; its duty as a common
carrier; Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866; Title II of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964; the New York Human Rights Law and the Florida
public accommodations law.
ADC President Albert Mokhiber hailed the settlement as a victory for
all Arab-Americans. "Arab-Americans will not tolerate such blatant acts of
corporate discrimination which unfairly treat us as a suspect class of
criminals and terrorists," he said.
"As the hostilities in the Middle East erupt again we must not lower
our guard but instead remain vigilant in the defense of our civil and
constitutional rights," Mokhiber added. "We refuse to become the
Japanese-Americans of the 1990s."
The action was vigorously contested and Pan Am denies both any
liability and the factual allegations made in the case. The parties to the
lawsuit agreed not to sue further in return for the financial amount that
will be shared by Ghonoudian, the ACLU and ADC.
Plaintiffs were represented by Lucas Guttentag and Victor Bolden of
the American Civil Liberties Union and Leon Friedman, a prominent New York
civil rights attorney and
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