Woman strip-searched at airport settles lawsuit

By Corey Williams
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A woman of Arab and Jewish descent who was strip-searched at a Detroit-area airport has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed on her behalf, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The federal government will give Shoshana Hebshi $40,000 as compensation for being humiliated on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks after armed agents forced her from a plane at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, made her undress during a search and held her for hours.

Frontier Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration and Wayne County Airport Authority were named in the federal lawsuit.

Hebshi, who has a Jewish mother and Saudi Arabian father, has said she was ethnically profiled based on her dark complexion.

“I filed this lawsuit because I didn’t want others to experience the kind of unnecessary trauma that I did, and it has given me faith that the justice system can work to protect constitutional rights,” Hebshi said in a release. “This settlement gives me some peace of mind. Now, I feel like I can finally put the incident behind me.”

Hebshi of Sylvania, Ohio, was traveling home after visiting a sister in California when she was removed from the Frontier Airlines flight after it landed Sept. 11, 2011. She was seated next to two Indian-American men, whom crew members had said spent a lot of time in the plane’s bathroom.

All three were detained, according to the ACLU. Hebshi was held for hours before being released. The two men also were released.

“People do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they step onto an airplane,” said ACLU attorney Rachel Goodman. “This settlement sends that critical message, and will help protect future passengers from having to endure what Shoshana went through.”

The Airport Authority said its insurer agreed to a financial settlement to avoid “further time-consuming and costly litigation.” That amount was not released.

Airport police “acted quickly and responsibly, and followed appropriate protocols in responding to a request for help from one of our airline partners,” Authority Chief Executive Thomas Naughton said in a release. “I strongly support their actions. We remain committed to vigilantly protecting the safety of the travelling public.”

As part of the settlement, Frontier will amend its employee handbook to more clearly state its zero-tolerance policy on discrimination and provide all new employees with training on that revision. The airline also will amend its customer complaint policy to ensure allegations of discrimination are given appropriate attention.

Frontier Airlines declined to comment on the settlement.