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Case: 1:18-cv-06503 Document #: 2 Filed: 09/25/18 Page 1 of 8 PageID #:3

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE


NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
EASTERN DIVISION

MUHAMMAD ZAHEER and )


YOUSRA ZAHEER, )
)
Plaintiffs, )
) No.
v. )
)
)
UNITED CONTINENTAL HOLDINGS, INC., )
UNITED AIRLINES INC., and )
SKYWEST, INC )
)
Defendants. )

COMPLAINT

Plaintiffs, Muhammad Zaheer and Yousra Zaheer, by and through their undersigned

attorneys, and for their Complaint against Defendants United Continental Holdings, Inc., United

Airlines Inc., and SkyWest Inc., state as follows:

INTRODUCTION

1. On September 25, 2016, Muhammad Zaheer, Yousra Zaheer and their 4-month old

daughter were unjustly removed from United Airlines Flight 5503 at O’Hare

International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. They bring this suit to redress their wrongful

removal from this flight which was based solely on their race, national origin and/or

perceived religion.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

2. This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343.

3. Venue is proper in the Northern District of Illinois pursuant to U.S.C. § 1391(b). The

events giving rise to the claims asserted herein occurred within this Judicial District.
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PARTIES

4. Muhammad Zaheer and Yousra Zaheer (“Plaintiffs”) are United States citizens and

residents of Washington D.C. Plaintiffs are accomplished and educated professionals who

at the time of the events giving rise to this Complaint frequently traveled via air

transportation for work.

5. Plaintiffs are non-white Pakistani-Americans. Muhammad has an outward appearance

generally identifiable as middle-eastern, speaking with an accent and wearing a beard.

6. United Continental Holdings, Inc. is the parent company of its subsidiary, United

Airlines, Inc. (collectively “United”). United is a commercial air carrier engaged in

domestic, intrastate, interstate, and international air transportation. United’s headquarters

are in Chicago, Illinois. In the course of their air carrier operations, United employs

pilots, flight attendants, and crew to carry its flights.

7. SkyWest, Inc. is the parent company of its subsidiary, SkyWest Airlines (collectively

“SkyWest”). SkyWest is a commercial air carrier engaged in domestic, intrastate,

interstate, and international air transportation. SkyWest’s headquarters are in St. George,

Utah. In the course of their air carrier operations, SkyWest employs pilots, flight

attendants, and crew to carry its flights.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

8. Prior to September 25, 2016, Plaintiffs purchased tickets for United Flight 5503. The

ticket purchase constituted a contract to fly aboard United Flight 5503 with the right to be

free from discrimination.


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9. On September 25, 2016, Plaintiffs, along with their 4-month old daughter, boarded

United Flight 5503 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois headed for

Washington D.C.

10. The Plaintiffs took their seats with their daughter securely seated in a forward facing,

over-the-shoulder strap baby carrier worn by Yousra.

11. As they waited for the aircraft to takeoff, a United Flight Attendant (“Flight Attendant”)

passed by the Plaintiffs’ seats and instructed the Plaintiffs that their daughter had to be

removed from the baby carrier in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration

(“FAA”) regulation(s). The Flight Attendant further informed the Plaintiffs that, if they

desired, she would produce and show them an FAA manual stating the applicable

regulation(s).

12. The Plaintiffs immediately complied with the Flight Attendant’s instruction and removed

their daughter from the baby carrier.

13. The Flight Attendant affirmed to Plaintiffs that Yousra had complied with her instruction.

14. After complying with the Flight Attendant’s instruction, the Plaintiffs accepted the Flight

Attendant’s offer to view the FAA manual containing the applicable regulation(s).

15. Shortly thereafter, and much to the Plaintiffs’ confusion, the Flight Attendant returned to

the Plaintiffs’ seats and asked if they planned to comply with her instruction or if they

wanted to leave the flight.

16. Plaintiffs informed and demonstrated to the Flight Attendant they had already complied

with her instruction; the Plaintiffs compliance was subsequently confirmed by fellow

passengers, another flight attendant aboard United Flight 5503 and the Gate Agent
Case: 1:18-cv-06503 Document #: 2 Filed: 09/25/18 Page 4 of 8 PageID #:6

servicing United Flight 5503. At no point did the Plaintiffs indicate they wanted to leave

the flight.

17. The Flight Attendant left the Plaintiffs and went to speak with the Captain of the flight.

18. At this point, various members of the flight crew began to harass and intimidate the

Plaintiffs by asking them if they would comply with the Fight Attendant’s instruction,

even though the Plaintiffs’ had already removed their daughter from the baby carrier. The

confusing behavior and actions of the flight crew continued as one crew member stated to

another crew member that the Plaintiffs were uncomfortable flying on this United flight.

19. Plaintiffs promptly and clearly corrected the flight crew, informing the crew member that

they were comfortable flying on this United flight and were looking forward to the flight

taking off.

20. Almost 30 minutes after this ordeal began, a Gate Agent boarded the plane and informed

the Plaintiffs that they were making the Flight Attendant and Captain uncomfortable and

would have to leave the flight as a result.

21. The Captain never met the Plaintiffs, at any point, and never asked them about their

interactions with the Flight Attendant or other members of the flight crew. Nevertheless,

the Plaintiffs were informed that the Captain was uncomfortable with their continued

presence on the flight.

22. Humiliated and in a state of disbelief, the Plaintiffs complied with the Gate Agent’s

demand and left the aircraft.

23. Following the Gate Agent off of the aircraft and to the gate, the Plaintiffs requested

clarification from the Gate Agent as to:


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a. how they could be making the Flight Attendant uncomfortable when they had

clearly complied with her instruction immediately; and

b. how they could be making the Captain uncomfortable when the Captain had never

met or spoken with Plaintiffs.

24. At this point, the Gate Agent offered alternating explanations as to why the Plaintiffs

were asked to leave United Flight 5503, including: Plaintiffs did not immediately comply

with the Flight Attendant’s request, the Plaintiffs stated they were uncomfortable on the

flight and that the Captain, Flight Attendant and Flight Crew were uncomfortable with

Plaintiffs.

25. Plaintiffs informed the Gate Agent of the following:

a. Plaintiffs immediately complied with Flight Attendant’s instructions, and that

other passengers witnessed and confirmed such compliance; and

b. Plaintiffs never expressed feeling uncomfortable on the flight.

26. The Gate Agent, despite stating Plaintiffs caused discomfort to the Captain, Flight

Attendant and flight crew of United Flight 5503, proceeded to place Plaintiffs on another

flight to Washington, D.C.

27. Upon information and belief, the reason the Plaintiffs were removed from United Flight

5503 is because of their race, national origin and/or perceived religion. The varying

explanations provided by the agents and/or employees of the Defendants were an attempt

to offer an innocent explanation for their purposefully discriminatory conduct.

COUNT 1
49 U.S.C § 40127(a): DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PERSONS IN AIR TRANSPORTATION

28. Plaintiffs reincorporate by reference each paragraph of this Complaint as if fully restated

herein.
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29. At all times relevant, the Captain, Flight Attendant, Gate Agent and other flight crew of

United Flight 5503 were agents and/or employees of Defendants United or SkyWest.

30. Defendants are liable for the wrongful acts of their employee and/or agents directly

and/or under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

31. The Plaintiffs never posed a risk of safety or security to the aircraft, flight crew or other

passengers of United Flight 5503.

32. The Defendants’ actions in removing Plaintiffs from the United Flight 5503 was

intentionally discriminatory and based on Plaintiffs’ race, national origin, and/or

perceived religion.

33. Defendants’ intentional discrimination against Plaintiffs deprived them of their right to be

free from discrimination in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 40127(a).

COUNT 2
42 U.S.C § 1981: DISCRIMINATION IN THE MAKING AND ENFORCEMENT OF
CONTRACTS

34. Plaintiffs reincorporate by reference each paragraph of this Complaint as if fully restated

herein.

35. At all times relevant, the Captain, Flight Attendant, Gate Agent and other flight crew of

United Flight 5503 were agents and/or employees of Defendants United or SkyWest.

36. Defendants are liable for the wrongful acts of their employee and/or agents directly

and/or under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

37. The Plaintiffs never posed a risk of safety or security to the aircraft, flight crew or other

passengers of United Flight.


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38. Defendants engaged in intentional discrimination against Plaintiffs on the basis of their

race, national origin, and/or perceived religion by removing Plaintiffs from United Flight

5503.

39. Defendants actions deprived Plaintiffs of their right to make and enforce contracts

regardless of race, national origin and/or perceived religion.

COUNT 3
42 U.S.C § 2000d: DISCRIMINATION IN FEDERALLY FUNDED ACTIVITIES

40. Plaintiffs reincorporate by reference each paragraph of this Complaint as if fully restated

herein.

41. At all times relevant, the Captain, Flight Attendant, Gate Agent and other fight crew of

United Flight 5503 were agents and/or employees of Defendants United or SkyWest.

42. Defendants are liable for the wrongful acts of their employee and/or agents directly

and/or under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

43. Upon information and belief, Defendants receive federal funding or assistance to support

their air carrier operations.

44. Defendants intentionally discriminated against Plaintiffs on the basis of race, national

origin, and or perceived religion by removing them from United Flight 5503.

45. Defendants’ discrimination deprived Plaintiffs of their right to be free from

discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs Muhammad Zaheer and Yousra Zaheer, respectfully request that

this Court enter a judgment in their favor against Defendants United Continental Holdings, Inc.,

United Airlines Inc., and SkyWest Inc., award Plaintiffs compensatory damages, Plaintiffs

punitive damages, Plaintiffs costs, expenses and fees incurred herein, including reasonable
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attorneys’ fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and any other equitable relief this Court deems just

and necessary.

JURY DEMAND

46. Plaintiffs hereby request a trial by jury

Respectfully Submitted,

/s/ Mohammed Khan


One of the attorneys for Plaintiffs
Muhammad Zaheer and Yousra Zaheer

Mohammed Khan
7 S. Fairview, Ste. 201
Park Ridge, IL 60068
847.696.9021
mkhan20@gmail.com
Atty. No. 6321914

Andrew Hale
Brian Stefanich
Hale Law, LLC
53 W. Jackson St., Suite 330
Chicago, IL 60604
312.341.9646
ahale@ahalelaw.com
Atty. No. 6197786
bstefanich@ahalelaw.com
Atty. No. 6304074