Aug. 29, 2012 at 12:52 PM ET
A gay couple is accusing United Continental of “extreme and outrageous” conduct over an alleged incident involving a sex toy taped to their luggage, which the men say caused them severe emotional trauma.
Christopher Bridgeman and Martin Borger of Norfolk, Va., are seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and negligence in a lawsuit filed against the airline on Friday in the District Court of Harris County, Texas.
“It still brings butterflies to my stomach,” Borger, 35, told NBC News when recalling the episode.
United countered that it has conducted a thorough investigation and determined that there is no support for the allegations, spokeswoman Christen David said in a statement.
“United does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” David said. “We will vigorously defend ourselves and our employees.”
The incident allegedly happened on May 21, 2011, as Bridgeman and Borger were returning from a vacation in Costa Rica. The men — who have been together for almost nine years — were flying back to Norfolk on Continental with a 90-minute layover at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. (Continental merged with United in 2010.)
Once they landed in Houston, the men collected their checked bags, went through customs, rechecked their luggage and boarded their flight to Virginia without incident.
But when they arrived in Norfolk and went to the baggage claim area, the couple discovered a sex toy had been taken from one of their bags, covered in a “greasy foul-smelling substance” and “taped prominently” to the top of the bag, according to the lawsuit.
Borger was the one to first spot the luggage.
“I knew exactly what it was when I saw it,” he told NBC News. “I was absolutely and utterly shocked and embarrassed and humiliated and I didn’t even know what to do at the time.”
Onlookers began laughing when they saw the bag, causing the men severe emotional trauma, according to the lawsuit.
Bridgeman speculated an airline employee went through the bag — which was closed with a simple zipper — found the sex toy, saw that it belonged to a man and decided to humiliate the owner.
“I absolutely, fervently believe that this was intentional,” Bridgeman, 34, told NBC News. “It was very sick and it was very wrong and it was just maliciously taped to the top and targeted because we’re gay.”
Why someone opened the bag in the first place is not clear, said Harry Scarborough, the couple’s attorney. He didn’t know whether the bag was X-rayed at the airport in Houston, but if it was, the sex toy would have been visible, he added.
The airline’s employees had a duty to prevent the bag from being put on display “in such an extremely offensive condition,” according to the lawsuit.
Bridgeman and Borger said they reported the incident to United Continental after the flight, but weren’t satisfied with the response.
The airline countered that it offered the men a gesture of goodwill, which they declined, spokeswoman Christen David said.
Scarborough said the offer didn’t begin to address what his clients had been through. He declined to estimate how much money the couple is seeking from the airline, but the lawsuit is requesting mental anguish damages, attorney fees and expenses and other compensation.
The couple doesn’t travel much anymore because of the psychological impact of the incident, Scarborough said.
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