Warning: This story contains graphic details.
An NFL player claims in a lawsuit filed against United Airlines that flight staff ignored numerous complaints as he and another man were sexually harassed and assaulted by a female passenger on a February red-eye flight.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the unidentified player and another man, accuses United Airlines of failing to have or enforce policies and procedures that protect passengers from assault.
Despite multiple complaints by the men, the lawsuit claims, the woman was moved only after she allegedly continued her groping and ripped a mask off the athlete's face.
"Those who report assaults should not be ignored, but believed, their claims investigated, and appropriate action taken where warranted," attorneys for the men said in a statement.
The attorneys cited a 2018 FBI report that found the number of sexual assaults reported during commercial airline flights was increasing "at an alarming rate." The bulk of the incidents happen on red-eye overnight flights, the FBI said. The lawsuit said the United flight was scheduled for 11:15 p.m.
United said the safety and well-being of its customers is its top priority.
"In this instance, the customer involved was moved to a different seat," spokesperson Rachael Rivas told CNN in a statement. "Because litigation is now pending, we're unable to provide further comment."
Allegations of assault
The lawsuit alleges that during the flight from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, John Doe 1 (the NFL player) and John Doe 2 shared a row with their alleged assailant, whom the two men believed to be intoxicated.
The two men allege the woman initially began harassing the NFL player about the fact that he was wearing a face mask due to concerns about increasing reports of the dangers of coronavirus.
The woman allegedly began making sexual advances toward and groping the NFL player, who repeatedly asked her to stop, according to the lawsuit.
The two men made three separate complaints to flight staff about the woman's behavior during this time, according to the suit. The first two complaints were allegedly ignored and the third produced a verbal warning to the passenger.
The woman later grabbed the NFL player's genitals and pulled the mask off his face, the lawsuit said.
The NFL player left his seat to complain to flight staff, at which point the woman allegedly groped the other man, according to the lawsuit. At this point, flight staff moved the woman to a different seat.
United Airlines gave both men a $150 voucher, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Two flight attendants and the woman who allegedly assaulted the two men were included but not identified in the lawsuit, which claims that the airline would not provide their names.
"This matter is about accountability; not just from United but the assailant as well," attorneys for the men said. "Those with a duty to others should be held accountable for their failures to uphold their responsibilities."