An NFL player said he was sexually harassed and assaulted by a female passenger on a United Airlines flight and accused two flight attendants of failing to properly respond to his complaints.
The incident happened during a late-night plane ride in February from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The unnamed athlete, who filed the suit with another unidentified man, alleges that the woman made "unwanted advances" toward him and inappropriately touched him during the flight.
"The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority," a spokesperson for United said in a statement on Wednesday. "In this instance, the customer involved was moved to a different seat. Because litigation is now pending, we’re unable to provide further comment."
The player, identified as John Doe 1 and the other man, identified as John Doe 2, alleges that the woman boarded the flight after a majority of the passengers were already seated and she appeared "disheveled and unbalanced."
According to the lawsuit, the woman was in the window seat in the same row as the two men.
John Doe 2 helped the woman put her bag in the overhead bin and as the woman took her seat she allegedly began harassing John Doe 1, who was in the middle seat and wearing a face mask because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Assailant began hitting John Doe 1’s arm and elbowing him. Assailant accosted John Doe 1 and told him that he was 'frightening,' ordered him to move to the front and use the air in the front of the plane because he was sick," the suit states.
John Doe 1 "respectfully responded that he was not sick and was being proactive, especially in wake of the growing COVID-19 concerns at that time."
The lawsuit says that the men saw the woman taking prescription pills and believe she was intoxicated and under the influence of drugs. Her behavior toward the men "intensified" during the plane ride, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the woman groped John Doe 1's knees and thighs.
"Fearful of the perception of being a male victim and the racial stigma of being a young African American male, John Doe 1 patiently pleaded for assailant to stop and removed her hand," the suit says.
John Doe 2, who was in an aisle seat, complained twice to a flight attendant, according to the lawsuit, but the attendant did not take action. After John Doe 1 asked a second flight attendant for help, the woman was given a verbal warning.
But according to the lawsuit, the woman's alleged actions did not stop. The lawsuit accuses her of stroking her hand across John Doe 1's lap toward his inner leg and caressing his chest and face. At one point, she allegedly grabbed his penis and ripped his face mask off.
John Doe 1 jumped up from his seat and went to find a flight attendant. The woman then moved to the middle seat and grabbed John Doe 2's leg and groin area, according to the lawsuit.
She was eventually moved, but had to be put in a row with no passengers because she was still being disruptive, the suit says.
The men filed the lawsuit seeking damages after United refused to give them the identities of the woman and the flight attendants.
"This matter is about accountability; not just from United but the assailant as well," an attorney for the men said. "Those with a duty to others should be held accountable for their failures to uphold their responsibilities. Those who report assaults should not be ignored, but believed, their claims investigated, and appropriate action taken where warranted."
CORRECTION (May 20, 2020, 4:05 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated in the text and headline that both of the men who filed the lawsuit were NFL players. Only one plays in the NFL; the other does not.