Apparel Retailer CEO Sues Delta For Failing to Detain Alleged Sexual Assault Perpetrator
Apparel retailer CEO Delany Luh has sued Delta Air Lines for failing to detain a passenger who allegedly sexually assaulted her mid-flight on June 16 of this year. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages, and another $5 million in punitive damages.
Delany Luh, the founder of fashion brand I Am Plenty, filed her complaint earlier this week in US District Court for the Eastern Court of Tennessee via Knoxville attorney James Friauf. The lawsuit alleges that Luh was sexually assaulted by a male passenger seated in the aisle next to her 20B middle seat onboard Delta Flight 2889 from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The lawsuit states that Luh's seatmate immediately attempted to engage her in small talk and telling her about his marital problems. Luh also contends that flight attendants served the man between six and eight alcoholic beverages over a short amount of time, which led the passenger to become increasingly "bizarre and harassing" throughout the flight.
"During the conversation, [Luh] observed [the man’s] eyes were watery and bloodshot,” Friauf wrote in the lawsuit. “The smell of alcohol was noticeably strong on his breath. As [the] assailant spoke, he leaned in close to [Luh], making her feel uncomfortable." At one point, the passenger faked a call to someone he called "Molly" in front of Luh, saying that he "was going to California and was hoping to meet some 'cool girls who were unlike this one next to [me], who [was] not being nice to [me].'"
"Assailant continued to talk to 'Molly' about Plaintiff," the lawsuit continues, "including referring to Plaintiff as a [expletive] and a 'California [expletive]' and postulating that Plaintiff was 'in a gang' because of a tattoo on her hand."
According to the lawsuit, Luh began trying to discreetly catch the flight attendant's attention, giving her a "concerned look" at one point as the crew member served the man another drink. "[Luh] did so in an attempt to make the flight attendant aware of her discomfort without making obvious to Assailant that [Luh] was raising concern about his intoxication level," the lawsuit states. "[Luh] worried Assailant would become agitated with her if he realized she had complained about him. The flight attendant ignored [Luh]."
With no help from the flight attendant, Luh told the man to “back off and that he was in her bubble," then "leaned as far as possible to the left and onto the window-seat passenger, who was asleep and wearing headphones” and “eventually fell asleep,” according to the lawsuit.
"After having slept for a few minutes, Plaintiff was startled awake by an abrupt discomfort in her vaginal area," Friauf wrote. "[Luh] quickly realized the origin of the discomfort was from Assailant manipulating his hand inside her pants and underwear and digitally penetrating her vagina." Luh immediately grabbed the man's arm and yelled for him to let her out of her seat, but he refused, according to the document.
"Because Assailant refused to budge, [Luh] was forced to climb over him to reach the aisle," the lawsuit states. "As she did so, Assailant pointed to his genital area, where [Luh] observed Assailant’s erect penis bulging from his pants. At the time Plaintiff climbed over Assailant, his tray table was down and holding a vodka and cranberry cocktail, as well as several bottles of vodka served to Assailant by Delta employees. During the ordeal, the cocktail was knocked from the tray and spilled onto the floor, which drew the attention of additional passengers.”
Once Luh broke free from her seat and the assailant, the lawsuit states that she "ran down the aisle of the aircraft to a Delta employee and tearfully recounted what had occurred."
"I ran and sprinted down the hall to the back of the plane where I saw a flight attendant," Luh told KTLA in July when the story first broke. "I grabbed her, and I hugged her, and I looked her in the eye and said, 'Please, please help me.'"
According to a series of tweets Luh posted in July which have now been made private, the crew immediately reseated her in a different section of the plane. Luh also said that Delta crew members told her they would “handle the situation” upon landing, which she assumed meant that the airline would have the man arrested upon arrival. Instead, the man was allowed to "exit the aircraft without incident or consequence for his abhorrent actions" while an airline representative walked Luh down to the baggage claim area, where she was later offered a $200 travel voucher to compensate her for the assault.
“[Luh] was forced to notify appropriate law enforcement and airport authorities on her own after [Delta’s] employees allowed Assailant to exit the aircraft without incident or consequence for his abhorrent actions,” the lawsuit stated. Luh told KTLA in July that she immediately filed a police report, and underwent a forensic medical exam colloquially known as a rape kit. Luh also told the news station that she had reached out to Delta several times to follow-up, but didn't receive any response until she took her story to Twitter on July 20.
In response to Luh's lawsuit, Delta released the following statement:
"The safety and security of our customers is our top priority and we do not tolerate the harassment or assault of a passenger by another. After deplaning, Ms. Luh first informed a Delta agent that she had been improperly touched on the leg by another passenger. Delta then immediately reported the incident to local and federal law enforcement for their handling, and our understanding is the matter was not pursued... Delta is aware of Ms. Luh’s lawsuit and we intend to vigorously oppose it."
Fox News reports that a Los Angeles World Airports Police representative stated that airport police responded to the report in June by meeting with the victim and a Delta representative upon the plane's arrival. "Airport Police made notifications to the Federal Bureau of Investigations and conducted an interview with the reporting party. A preliminary investigation was completed and no arrests were made." The representative did not say that the airport police either confronted or spoke with the alleged suspect. Airport police also stated that Delta did not contact them before the plane landed and did not detain the suspect — although airline personnel would not have the authority to hold him against his will.
Luh is not the first passenger to sue Delta Air Lines for onboard assault this year. In February, Allison Dvaladze sued the airline for failing to follow through after her seatmate repeatedly assaulted her on an international flight in 2016. Another former Delta passenger sued the carrier as well, stating that when she reported a passenger who had repeatedly groped her, a flight attendant refused to intervene because the man held elite status with the airline.
Reports of rampant sexual misconduct and inadequate follow-up have plagued the aviation industry as a whole in recent years. A customer sued United Airlines in July for very similar allegations of neglect, and the FBI stated in June that mid-air assault reports have "skyrocketed" in the last four years, steadily increasing “at an alarming rate” of 66% between 2014 to 2017.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) contends that flight attendants are not adequately trained to address the issue, and often suffer harassment and assault on the job themselves. In March, the AFA union published its own findings regarding in-flight sexual assault in March. AFA union president and United Airlines flight attendant Sara Nelson said, “In my 22 years as a flight attendant, I have never taken part in a conversation — in training or otherwise — about how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
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