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NFL Player Sues United Alleging Sexual Assault Took Place on Flight

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A lawsuit filed in California state court claims an unnamed NFL player and an additional unnamed man were sexually harassed and assaulted by a woman seated next to them on a United Airlines red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Newark in February. The suit claims the airline failed to provide assistance to either of the men despite repeated attempts to make flight attendants aware of the problem.

According to the complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week, the two plaintiffs were seated next to a passenger described as a “middle-aged, Caucasian female.” The unidentified NFL player was reportedly wearing a mask due to concerns related to the coronavirus. The woman allegedly began harassing the man, elbowing him and demanding he move to the front of the plane “because he was sick,” seemingly in reference to the man’s face mask.

The NFL player, identified as John Doe 1 in the complaint, reportedly assured the woman he was not ill, merely being proactive against COVID-19. The passenger seated next to John Doe 1 and the woman, identified in the complaint as John Doe 2, informed a flight attendant that the woman was being verbally abusive and harassing both him and the NFL player. According to the complaint, the flight attendant instructed the woman to stop and then told the men he would come back to check on the situation again. But the flight attendant never returned, according to the suit, and the woman, who allegedly had a bottle of pills in her hand, became more aggressive.

The complaint alleges the woman began making sexually suggestive comments, engaging in “verbal and/or physical conduct of a sexual nature” which entailed groping the NFL player. Additionally, the lawsuit claims the woman grabbed the NFL player’s penis and at one point ripped off his facemask. When the NFL player left his seat to notify a flight attendant, the woman allegedly moved to the middle seat of the aisle and began groping John Doe 2.

Both plaintiffs are identified as black males in the lawsuit.

Moreover, the complaint states that, “Fearful of the perception of being a male victim and the racial stigma of being a young African American male, John Doe 1 patiently pleaded for [the woman] to stop and removed her hand. [The woman]’s actions were so inappropriate that John Doe 2 quickly went to [the flight attendant] to notify him again of [the woman]’s inappropriate behavior.”

The complaint contends that, despite repeated attempts to persuade United employees to assist in the situation, no flight attendants ever followed-up or went to check on either of the men after they expressed their concerns. When the woman’s behavior eventually escalated, a flight attendant reportedly issued a casual verbal warning. Shortly thereafter, according to the complaint, the woman was touching and caressing the NFL player’s chest. Eventually, she allegedly grabbed the man’s genitals, at which point he left his seat again to find a flight attendant and ask for help.

When the NFL player was away from his seat, the woman allegedly left her seat, occupied the seat next to John Doe 2, and proceeded to sexually assault him.

The complaint states the woman then “admitted she was drinking and had taken pills,” and was eventually relocated to a new row of the plane by a United employee.

United issued a statement to the New York Times indicating, “The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority.” The airline reportedly provided each of the men with a $150 voucher, according to the lawsuit.

In the complaint the plaintiffs stated, “United’s lack of and/or failure to enforce adequate policies and procedures for the prevention of and response to in-flight sexual assault put plaintiffs (and other passengers) at risk of harm, and caused harm to plaintiffs as they were verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted by [the woman].”

One of the attorneys representing the two men, Benji Azizian, reportedly told USA TODAY Sports, “This is a civil matter, and although we might feel the assailant’s actions were criminal, we are not in a position to seek such redress.”

The lawsuit is seeking damages for sexual assault, sexual battery, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence and negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention.

Additionally, the suit seeks unspecified damages, attorney fees, treble damages, and court supervision of United and its flight attendants.