By Associated Press Writer
updated 9/3/2009 6:45:00 PM ET 2009-09-03T22:45:00

A judge on Thursday ruled in favor of American Airlines in a lawsuit by five men of Iraqi descent who claimed their nationality caused a captain to cancel a flight to Chicago in 2007.

Capt. John Plummer's decision to return to the gate in San Diego was not "arbitrary and capricious," a key legal standard in the case, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman said.

"The fact that the individuals who engaged in the suspicious conduct were of Middle Eastern/Iraqi descent does not support the conclusion that the decision to return to the gate was race-based rather than fact-based," Borman wrote.

The Detroit-area men were flying to Chicago after training U.S. Marines in California about Iraqi culture.

A woman who was uncomfortable got off the flight. Flight attendants called the cockpit to report that one of the men had a blanket over his head and had glared at a crew member during safety instructions.

Plummer described the behavior as "odd." He returned the plane to the gate, and police interviewed the men. Everyone, including the Iraqi natives, departed San Diego the next day on another flight. American denied allegations of racial discrimination.

"The suspicious conduct at issue was not, as plaintiffs' counsel characterized it at oral argument, 'innocent' or 'completely silly,'" Borman said.

A message seeking comment on the judge's decision was left with American, which is a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp.

At a court hearing in February, the men's lawyer, Lawrence Garcia, said there would have been no suspicion if they were black or white.

"I disagree with the ruling," he said. "The judge is accepting the facts as they were presented by American Airlines. He's not allowing that there may be a more sinister way of viewing what happened here."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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