An Orthodox Jewish couple from Southfield, Michigan, are suing American Airlines after they were kicked off a flight last year over body odor complaints.
Yehuda Yosef Adler and Jennie Adler filed a lawsuit in a Texas district court on Tuesday, the Detroit Free Press reported, claiming discrimination from the Fort Worth-based airline.
According to court documents, the couple were flying from Miami to Detroit with their 19-month-old daughter last January, when they were booted from the flight.
They claim in the lawsuit they had been sitting on the plane for under five minutes when an American Airlines staff member told them they needed to leave the aircraft due to an emergency.
Once outside, they were allegedly told they were being kicked off because of their body odor. They claim a gate agent made “a disparaging and derogatory statement” by telling the Adlers “he knew Orthodox Jews take baths once a week.”
The Adlers say they were wearing traditional garments worn by Orthodox Jews at the time, Mr. Adler in a yarmulke and Mrs. Adler in a shaytel (a wig) and long skirt.
Reached for statement, a representative for American Airlines denied the Adlers’ claims, telling PEOPLE that the family was “asked to deplane after multiple passengers and our crew members complained about Mr. Adler’s body odor.”
“The decision was made out of concern for the comfort of our other passengers,” the rep said. “None of the decisions made by our team in handling this sensitive situation were based on the Adlers’ religion.”
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American Airlines “took care of the family,” the rep added, providing hotel accommodations and meals. They were rebooked on a flight to Detroit the next morning, the rep said.
However, the Adlers complain in their lawsuit that the flight took off with their luggage, including the baby’s car seat, stroller, diapers and other belongings.
As for the odor complaint, Mr. Adler said in the lawsuit that he showered that morning. The papers also claim that the Adlers surveyed 20 people at the boarding gate, all who said they could not detect a noticeable smell.
They are seeking punitive damages, claiming that because of the situation they’ve suffered “trauma, stigmatization, severe mental and emotional distress, depression, despair, repugnance, embarrassment, public humiliation, damage to personal and professional reputation, anxiety, fear, and apprehension associated with airports and flying, loss of appetite, insomnia, and migraines.”
“The Adlers are being pressured to see their race and religion as inferior to that of Whites, dirty and unwelcome,” the lawsuit states.
A scheduling conference is slated for May 29, The Detroit Free Press reported.