DES MOINES, Iowa — The parents of a girl who reported being inappropriately touched by a man while flying alone from New York to Iowa have sued the man and American Airlines, saying the airline failed to protect the girl.
Muhammad Asif Chaudhry, 57, was arrested after the July flight on charges including engaging in sexual contact with a victim between the ages of 12 and 16. The Pakistani citizen, who has denied the accusations, has since been released on bond.
The lawsuit alleges that Chaudhry moved to an open seat beside the girl. The girl texted her mother, who had just arrived at work in Iowa, saying she was woken up by a man inappropriately touching her with his foot and later his hand.
“I can’t move cause the seat belt sign is on and I want to get away,” the girl said in texts turned over the FBI, according to the lawsuit. She began another text, “Mommy, I’m scared…,” and said a man tried to touch her genitals. The family’s attorney, Brett Beatty, said the mother was so stunned by the texts that she fainted.
When Chaudhry left the seat to use the restroom, the girl alerted a flight attendant, who moved her to a vacant first-class seat. The airline reported the girl’s complaint to authorities, and an FBI agent met Chaudhry when the flight, the first leg of her trip, landed in Chicago.
“American cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe travel experience for them,” spokesman Josh Freed said in a statement Friday, a day after the lawsuit was filed in federal court in Des Moines. “We take these matters very seriously and have cooperated fully and immediately with law enforcement’s investigation of the suspect.”
Chaudhry denied touching the girl, according to the FBI. The girl gave the investigating agent a cellphone photo she’d taken with Chaudhry’s leg across her lap, the agent said, according to the documents filed by the agent in Chaudhry’s criminal case.
Chaudhry told the FBI he was in the U.S. on vacation and to visit family in Oklahoma. He was released on bond after relatives helped pay his $100,000 bail. He’s scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday in Chicago.
“I’m not allowed to talk. My friend will talk to you later,” Chaudhry said when reached by phone Monday by The Associated Press.
His attorney didn’t respond to messages seeking comment that were left at his office Friday and Monday, a holiday.
Beatty, the attorney for the girl’s family, said American Airlines should have placed the girl in a seat where she could be monitored. American Airlines charges $150 extra for minors traveling alone.
Similar incidents have been reported in recent years, including a Pennsylvania man’s arrest this summer after a 16-year-old girl reported being awoken by a man inappropriately touching her. A New Jersey man was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in January 2014 for putting his hands in a woman’s shirt and shorts while she was sleeping during a flight in 2012.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) — The brief but intense life of the US Airline Pilots Association is nearing an end, and it is not a happy one.
The union was formed in 2008 following the 2005 merger of US Airways and America West. The majority “east” pilots voted out the Air Line Pilots Association, which had represented them for 50 years; minority America West pilots were dragged along. At the time, east pilots, who were disproportionately penalized by the 2007 Nicolau ruling, thought USAPA’s creation could prevent its implementation.
They were wrong. USAPA could not save them. Its existence defied an agreement to respect the principle of binding arbitration. Hard to live in a world where binding arbitration is not binding.
At the same time, they were right. Arbitrator George Nicolau’s ruling treated about 1,000 east pilots unfairly. They fought for one principle — fairness — even as they opposed another.
USAPA was replaced as the pilots’ bargaining representative by the larger Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots. It mapped out an impartial path to a new list, conforming to the 2007 McCaskill-Bond Act and judiciously seeking to ensure — despite opposition — that each pilot group would be represented.
The “west” pilots were to be represented in seniority talks before a panel of three arbitrators. And
USAPA, while no longer the bargaining agent, was to remain as the east pilot representative. No doubt somebody would come out unhappy, but finally a process was clearly defined.
That promise was dashed by a June ruling by a three-member panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which said USAPA violated its duty of fair representation when it failed to back Nicolau.
In a bizarre twist, the panel ruled that going forward, USAPA’s role would be limited largely to advocating for the ruling it despised.
Nevertheless, last week the Appeals Court denied USAPA’s request for a hearing before the full court. USAPA said it is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court, obviously a long shot.
“USAPA is done,” said Mark Burman, spokesman for America West pilots and a member of the group’s nine-member merger committee. “The only people who don’t know USAPA has lost is USAPA. Or maybe they do know, but they just don’t want to admit it.
“They should capitulate and accept the Nic, which would be far better than continuing a useless fight,” Burman said.
One sign of USAPA’s disarray is that since taking office in April, President Steve Bradford has rejected repeated requests for an interview. Historically, USAPA leaders have answered reporters’ questions.
Looking back on USAPA history, Bradford was founding president. In the exuberant early days, he spoke freely, seeming to embody hope and principle and seeking compromise with west pilots — which he did not achieve.
USAPA’s second president, Mike Cleary, took office in 2008. Many found him divisive. In his final act, after leaving office, he sued USAPA, alleging he was not paid for 100 unused vacation days he accumulated.
USAPA’s best moments occurred during the tenure of Gary Hummel, president from 2012 to 2015. Hummel offered equanimity. He staffed key positions with west pilots. He worked with American pilots and management. He even survived a recall attempt by his own divided board.
Was this experiment worthwhile?
The underlying issue has always been illustrated by this example: The Nicolau award would place an America West first officer born in 1971 with 1.5 years of seniority ahead of a US Airways first officer born in 1955 with 17.8 years of seniority.
As an east pilot hired in 1987 once told me, “Except for about 50 guys, every west pilot, even guys who were there three months at the time of the merger, would be senior to me.”
Final and binding arbitration? Another east pilot told me, “My first marriage was final and binding too.”
I have long been a critic of the Nicolau award. In June, at the start of a court hearing in Charlotte regarding what USAPA should do with its accumulated dues money — this still has not been ultimately determined — a west pilot refused to shake my hand.
After the hearing, he approached me and apologized. “I’m not like that,” he said.
I was moved. If only this one-sided ruling had not divided so many decent people.