United Airlines Sued By An NFL Player Over Alleged Sexual Assault

On Monday, an anonymous NFL player filed a lawsuit against United Airlines in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The accusation is that crew ignored numerous complaints raised by him and his co-traveler as they were sexually harassed and assaulted by a female passenger on a red-eye flight back in February.

United NFL player sexual assault
An anonymous NFL player has sued United over an incident of sexual assault. Photo: Getty Images

Flight UA415

The lawsuit, filed by an unidentified National Football League (NFL) player and another man, is claiming that the crew failed to act when they raised several complaints about the sexually aggressive behavior of one of their female co-passengers.

As reported by the New York Times, the two companions were sitting in the middle and aisle seats of the same row on United Flight 415. Somewhere between LAX and New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport, the woman occupying the window seat, whom they believed to be intoxicated, began harassing the NFL player.

The two men say that their calls for assistance went unanswered as the woman became increasingly obtrusive. They allege that she initially began harassing the player about the fact that he was wearing a face mask due to already increasing travel and health concerns.

She then, according to the filing, proceeded to make unwelcome sexual advances towards the player. The woman allegedly groped him while he repeatedly asked her to stop. She then grabbed his genitals and tore off the face mask he was wearing.

The men say that they made three separate complaints to the flight’s cabin crew concerning the woman’s behavior. The first two allegedly went largely ignored, while the third resulted in a verbal warning. In the end, she was moved to a different seat.

United Airlines 787 above clouds
The men are suing United for failing to provide the name of the passenger, crew, and potential witnesses. Photo: United Airlines

Suing for negligent infliction of emotional distress

The filing accuses United Airlines of failing to have or enforce policies and procedures protecting passengers from assault. The men are also suing United Airlines for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Furthermore, the suit says that the airline has refused to provide the name of the female passenger, the flight attendants, as well as potential witnesses for contact from lawyers.

Simple Flying was yet to receive a requested comment from United at the time of publication, but a spokesperson for the airline confirmed to the New York Times that the passenger had, in the end, been moved to a different seat.

“The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority,” said the spokesperson, who declined to comment further because of the lawsuit.

Harassment on US aircraft is a federal crime

Crimes aboard aircraft in the US fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Back in 2018, the FBI released a report called “Be Air Aware.” The report stated that sexual assault onboard aircraft, which in the US is a federal crime, had risen significantly. Reported cases of in-flight sexual assault were up from 38 in 2014 to 63 four years on.

Frontier Airlines covid-19 coronavirus
Two women filed a class-action lawsuit against Frontier Airlines in December last year. Photo: Getty Images

Not the only lawsuit in the past year

This is not the first time passengers have sued an airline for failing to act during unwanted sexual attention in the past 12 months. In December 2019, a class-action lawsuit was filed by two women against low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines. The carrier was accused of failing to have or follow policies to prevent, report, and respond to sexual assault that occurs on its flights. 

The women claimed that they were assaulted on two separate Frontier Airlines flights from Denver in October and November 2018. They said that the flight attendants both refused to move the perpetrator to a different seat, and failed to report the incidents or contact law enforcement.

American Getty
American Airlines was also the target of a lawsuit last year. Photo: Getty Images

A few months prior, in August 2019, a woman filed a lawsuit against American Airlines. In the suit, she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by an intoxicated man that the flight attendants, contrary to the woman’s request, kept serving alcohol. Only after being groped several times, the woman was moved to the back of economy, the lawsuit stated.