1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 10/7/2011 8:15:54 AM ET 2011-10-07T12:15:54

A Muslim-American woman who was removed from a plane in San Diego last spring sued Southwest Airlines on Thursday, alleging she was discriminated against because she was wearing an Islamic head covering.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Joan Rivers' daughter Melissa says Mom's condition 'remains serious'

      Melissa Rivers, the daughter of comedian Joan Rivers, has arrived at the New York City hospital where her mother was rushe...

    2. Sandy Hook mom: Shootings changed how we feel about going back to school
    3. Bill Murray sighting actually makes perfect sense for once
    4. 'Are we there yet?' Surviving the family road trip
    5. Ariana Grande on how she played off her most embarrassing on-stage moment

Irum Abbasi, a psychology graduate student at San Jose State University who is a U.S. citizen, filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Diego.

"Suspicions were aroused because of her religion," Abbasi's attorney, James McElroy, said at a news conference. "She would not have been removed from the plane if she had been a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman."

Abbasi, a mother of three, was taken off the San Jose-bound flight in March as it was about to depart after a flight attendant thought she heard her say "it's a go" on her mobile phone.

Abbasi "was horrified, embarrassed, humiliated and confused," the lawsuit stated.

In fact, Abbasi had said "I have to go" because the plane was about to depart, according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Abbasi was searched and given clearance to reboard the flight within three minutes, but the pilot claimed the crew was uncomfortable flying with her and refused to allow her aboard.

She was given an apology, a voucher and a boarding pass for the next San Jose flight. As a result, she missed a critical research experiment that she needed to be able to complete for her graduate studies, the lawsuit said.

Chris Mainz, spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co., said the airline apologized to Abbasi for her inconvenience and her concerns were addressed "in good faith."

"In this case, our employees raised a safety concern based on the customer's behavior, and we had a duty to thoroughly address those concerns before clearing the customer to travel," Mainz said in an emailed statement.

"We have a vast, diverse workforce, and we celebrate diversity among our employees and our customers. 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."

Southwest has received widespread notoriety for removing passengers.

Last week, the airline ejected a female couple who kissed during a flight, and earlier this year it removed Green Day singer Billy Joe Armstrong and a University of New Mexico football player for wearing pants that were too baggy. A couple of years ago, a woman was taken off a San Diego flight for wearing clothing deemed too revealing.

"It's time for the company to take responsibility for the weak policies and standards that allow for employee biases to affect treatment of passengers," McElroy said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Muslim woman kicked off flight wants apology

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. Courtesy of Hockley family

    Sandy Hook mom: Shootings changed how we feel about going back to school

    8/29/2014 1:02:40 PM +00:00 2014-08-29T13:02:40
  1. Courtesy Andreas Kleinke

    'Brand new mini': Former Apple employee's baby announcement is charming

    8/29/2014 4:28:59 PM +00:00 2014-08-29T16:28:59
  1. Ben Garvin via Instagram

    Bill Murray sighting actually makes perfect sense for once

    8/29/2014 7:18:44 PM +00:00 2014-08-29T19:18:44
  1. Ariana Grande brings her ‘Everything,' huge crowd to TODAY plaza

    When you’ve got pop’s reigning princess making a royal visit to your show, what do you do? In the case of TODAY Friday, you just hand over the keys to the kingdom.

    8/29/2014 12:46:14 PM +00:00 2014-08-29T12:46:14
  2. video Pop star performs her No. 1 hit, ‘Problem’

    video The singer performs her hit tune on the TODAY plaza. Her second album, “My Everything,” is already No. 1 on iTunes in 80 countries.

    8/29/2014 6:49:03 PM +00:00 2014-08-29T18:49:03
  3. Ariana Grande on how she played off her most embarrassing on-stage moment

    Reigning princess of pop Ariana Grande exudes confidence on stage these days, but she says that wasn't always the case. Watch the video to find out how Grande played off a rocky moment during a performance.

    8/29/2014 4:35:57 PM +00:00 2014-08-29T16:35:57
  4. Jamie Mccarthy / Getty Images