Two Transportation Security Administration officials and JetBlue Airways have paid a former Oakland man $240,000 to settle charges that they illegally discriminated against him based on his ethnicity and the Arabic writing on his T-shirt.
Raed Jarrar said he was waiting to board a JetBlue flight from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Oakland on Aug. 12, 2006, when two TSA officials told him he needed to remove his shirt, which read "We Will Not Be Silent" in English and Arabic, because other passengers were uncomfortable. He said they told him wearing a shirt with Arabic writing on it to an airport was like "wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, 'I am a robber.'"?"
Joined by two JetBlue representatives, the TSA officials told Jarrar that he would not be allowed to board his flight until he complied by covering his shirt with another bought for him by the airline, Jarrar said; even then, JetBlue changed his seat from the front of the plane to the back.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued on his behalf in 2007; the TSA employees and JetBlue agreed to settle the case last month and delivered the settlement Friday. Aden Fine, senior staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group, called it "a victory for free speech and a blow to the discriminatory practice of racial profiling."
Jarrar now 30, living in Washington, D.C., and working for the American Friends Service Committee said Monday he hopes the settlement will discourage future discrimination.
"These are not isolated incidents these are part of a systematic effort to single out Arabs and Muslims in the U.S.," he said. "That systematic discrimination must end, and I think with this settlement "... it sends a very clear message that what happened was wrong and should not be repeated."
That's not how JetBlue sees it.
"In the settlement, Jarrar has acknowledged that neither JetBlue nor TSA officials admit any wrongdoing whatsoever with respect to his claims; in point of fact, JetBlue continues to deny, outright, every critical aspect of Mr. Jarrar's version of events," spokeswoman Alison Croyle said Monday, adding that the company values diversity among its workers and customers.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez noted his agency wasn't sued, only the two employees involved in the incident.
"The TSA does not condone profiling and does not tolerate discrimination in any way, shape or form," he added. "The agency's 50,000 employees are dedicated to the safety of the traveling public and performing that critical mission in a manner consistent with American values."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, whose office Melendez said defended the two TSA employees named in the suit, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.