An American Airlines pilot, Bahig Saliba, is taking legal action against Spokane International Airport in Washington, as well as three of its security officers, regarding an incident from 2021 that led to his indefinite suspension without pay.
Saliba initiated the lawsuit in a Washington district court on August 1, with a demand for more than $23.5 million in compensation.
Within the lawsuit, he charges the airport and officers with racial profiling, following an incident where he arrived without a mask during a period when an executive order required COVID-19 safety precautions.
Saliba’s court filing, which was reviewed by Insider, claims that he was exempt from the mask mandate as it would compromise his ability to pilot the plane and hinder his breathing, thus posing a workplace safety risk.
He recounts in the lawsuit that one security officer took a “threatening posture” and that the defendants scolded him while dismissing his attempts to clarify the exemption.
One officer even loudly proclaimed that they would head to the gate to notify American Airlines about the captain’s lack of a mask, as stated in the lawsuit.
Saliba piloted the 6:00 a.m. flight to Dallas Fort Worth Airport but was subsequently placed on administrative leave because of the event, according to legal documents.
He further argues that the defendants’ reference to him as Middle Eastern in the police report is indicative of racial profiling. Though Saliba is of Middle Eastern descent, he identifies as white and did not reveal his ethnic background to the officers.
The lawsuit alleges that the “Defendants were determined to punish a man of Middle Eastern heritage.”
Neither American Airlines nor Spokane International Airport were available for comment when approached by Insider outside US working hours.