Lawsuit accuses Delta of discrimination in restroom run bumping


A lawsuit is moving forward in which a Delta Air Lines passenger, who was booted from a plane last year after an urgent restroom run before takeoff, accuses the airline of racial discrimination.

The passenger, Kima Hamilton, gained widespread attention after a video posted online showed him being asked to exit the plane. An attorney seated nearby had recorded the April 18 incident on video.

When the plane returned to the gate in Atlanta and agents asked him to exit the plane, Hamilton refused.

Then, all of the passengers were “escorted off the plane,” and all passengers except him were allowed to re-board for the flight to Milwaukee. Hamilton was greeted by FBI agents in the jetway, and Hamilton discussed the incident with them.

A passenger on another flight said she saw someone in a similar situation, who was white, treated differently, said Hamilton’s lawyer Jeff Scott Olson. According to the account relayed to one of the attorneys seated near Hamilton, that passenger was allowed to use the lavatory without the plane returning to the gate or the passengers deplaning, the lawsuit alleges.

Delta “would not have returned its plane to the gate, nor summoned law enforcement, nor required Mr. Hamilton to deplane, nor refused him passage to Milwaukee had everything else been the same but he had been white, so these actions violated rights to be free from racial discrimination” according to the Civil Rights Act, the lawsuit alleges.

A scheduling conference in the case is set for Jan. 26, where a trial date could be set.

In response to the lawsuit, Delta said its flight crews “are extensively trained to ensure the safety and security of all customers.”

“It is imperative that passengers comply with crew instructions during all phases of flight, especially at the critical points of takeoff and landing, which our findings indicate this customer did not do,” Delta said in a written statement.

“We take any claims of discrimination seriously though we cannot comment further on pending litigation.”

Olson, a Madison, Wis.-based civil rights lawyer, said “Mr. Hamilton was pretty convinced that he was being treated unreasonably by the airline.”

The example of the other passenger on another flight who was not booted from the plane confirmed for Hamilton “that there was something behind the scenes of Delta’s decision making,” Olson said.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, of an amount yet to be determined, Olson said.

If Hamilton prevails, Olson said he hopes “air travel will be a tiny bit better for people that look a tiny bit different.”

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AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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