A Nigerian woman said she was publicly humiliated when she was removed from a United Airlines flight after a white male passenger complained about her "pungent" odor, a racial discrimination lawsuit claims.
According to ABC News, the incident occurred in Houston, Texas, in 2016. The woman, Queen Obioma, was taking her two children to Ontario, Canada, to enroll in school. The family boarded their second-leg of their three-plane flight journey from Nigeria to Canada when a white man reportedly made a complaint.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Houston on Friday, states that the white passenger was initially seated in Obioma's seat and refused to move. A flight crew member then reportedly asked Obioma to sit elsewhere in business class instead of insisting the man sit in his correct seat, The Washington Post reported. Later but before takeoff, Obioma went to use the bathroom and when she returned, the same passenger was allegedly standing in the aisle blocking her from returning to her seat.
Obioma said "excuse me" three times to no avail, the lawsuit claims. Obioma squeezed by and returned to her seat but was asked to go outside the aircraft moments later. According to a report by The Post, the lawsuit claims the pilot personally requested Obioma be removed since the white male passenger accused her of having a "pungent" odor and that he was uncomfortable flying with her.
"At that point Ms. Obioma was lost, confused and disoriented. Her mind went blank and she was utterly befuddled,” the suit states.
Obioma's children, who were seated in the economy cabin, were also removed from the flight. Obioma reportedly pleaded with crew members that she was taking her children to school appointments, but the crew responded by removing her children, the suit claimed, adding that the children were equally humiliated.
“Ms. Obioma watched her minor children marched out of the aircraft like criminals, confused and perplexed. … She sobbed uncontrollably for a long time,” the complaint said according to The Post.
The lawsuit claims United Airlines removed Obioma and her children due to racial discrimination. The family waited five hours before they could get another flight and subsequently missed their scheduled appointments, The Post reported.
The airline released the following statement to ABC News on Sunday, May 13:
"United does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and will investigate this matter." The airline added, "We have not yet been served with this suit and due to the pending litigation involved, we’re unable to provide further comment."
The suit claims that the airline "wrongfully" signaled out Obioma and her children and that the airline "punished them publicly because a white man did not want them on the plane," ABC News reported.