Four Brooklyn men—three of whom are Muslim and one of whom is Sikh—filed a federal lawsuit against American Airlines. The men claim that they were told to leave a flight beacuse of their ethnicity and appearance. 

The men and their representative spoke to the New York Daily News on Monday (January 18) about their $9 million lawsuit and the racial profiling they said they endured. The four friends were traveling home to New York from Toronto. Two of them, Shan Anand and Faimul Alam, paid to switch to the flight that the other two (whom the Daily News quoted with only initials and photographed with their backs facing the camera) were on. The other two men also paid to upgrade to business class before they all boarded. Anand and Alam said they then switched seats with other passengers so that they could sit next to one another.

The lawsuit states that a White flight attendant told the men who upgraded to business class to take their belongings and leave the plane. The suit says passengers sitting near Anand and Alam then began making racist comments and clutching their children “as if something was going to happen.” Two other men in their group, one is Latino and the other is Pakistani, had fallen asleep and were not escorted off. 

One of the anonymous men says that the four were then told by an American Airlines agent that ”there were inconsistencies of our behavior traveling as a group, because two of us upgraded and two of us didn’t.” These actions apparently made the crew uncomfortable. When the other anonymous man asked if their appearance (some of the men have beards, while the Sikh Anand has a beard and turban) scared the crew, the agent said that it ”did not help.” They made it back to New York only after they were approved to board the flight Alam and Anand were originally slated to take.

While airline captains are allowed discretion in some instances to remove passengers, the men’s attorney insists that American Airlines did not follow appropriate procedure, telling the Daily News that “it’s the plaintiffs’ position that the reason they were taken off the flight is because this is blatant discrimination.”

American Airlines commented on the situation to CBS New York, saying only that they were reviewing the lawsuit. 

(H/t New York Daily News, CBS New York)