Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Federal Court Jury Begins Hearing Evidence in Gay Couple's Suit Against United/Continental Airlines

Christopher Bridgeman and Martin Borger with us on our wedding day in DC

I noted on May 3, 2015, that the case of our good friend against United/Continental Airlines for seemingly homophobic tampering with their luggage was set to go to trial in federal court after all kinds or maneuvering and court motions by United/Continental to have the case dismissed or to drive my friends into giving up (the court docket shows over 100 filings and motions).  Yesterday, the trial began and the story has made the Houston Chronicle and Towleroad.  As I have said before, given the fortune in legal fees that United/Continental has run up in this matter to date, I am dumbfounded that the airline - which claims to be gay friendly - has never made a settlement offer that, in my opinion, wasn't yet an a further insult to our friends.   Particularly disingenuous in my view is the airlines effort to shift blame to TSA personnel even though the tape used to affix the sex toy was clearly the airline's tap.  Here are highlights from the Chronicle's coverage:
A Houston federal jury is hearing opening arguments Tuesday in a case where baggage handlers are accused of humiliating a gay couple by manipulating a duffle bag to cause a sex toy to be exposed when released on a baggage claim carousel.

Christopher Bridgeman and Martin Borger filed the suit after a trip to Costa Rica in May 2011. They returned to the United States on a Continental flight through Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport, cleared customs and rechecked their bags for the domestic trip home to Norfolk, Va.

Upon retrieving their belongings, they discovered an unexpected object taped between the zipper of one piece of luggage: A purple sex toy. The Virginia couple's 2012 federal lawsuit, filed in Houston, alleges that the device had been removed purposefully from the duffle and slathered with a greasy, foul-smelling substance to embarrass them. The petition claims the airline's baggage handlers intentionally inflicted emotional distress and invaded their privacy by searching through their luggage.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt of Houston dismissed the case in late 2012, but a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reinstated the lawsuit a year later.

Since then, Continental's parent following that carrier's merger with United - United Continental Holdings - has been trying to have the lawsuit sacked.

United claims their employees did not open the bag and could not have known what was inside to intentionally target gay men. The airline's filings in the suit also question whether any alleged intrusion was the fault of a United employee because the federal Transportation Security Administration screens luggage and has some in-transit control over baggage.

The lawsuit has been featured in national news stories and discussed in legal blogs for more than three years.

Trial exhibits include photos of the toy. Expected witnesses include United baggage handlers based in Houston and Norfolk as well as the general manager of the Norfolk International Airport.

As recently as last week, Hoyt denied United's claim to side with the company – thus, leaving the door open for trial.

Seven jurors – four women and three men – were selected Monday for the trial. Jurors also will consider if any airline employee intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the men.

The lawsuit claims that Bridgeman and Borger "experienced extreme shock and horror" when they saw their toy exposed and "when observing the surprised and/or laughing faces of numerous onlookers in the baggage claim area."
As noted before, I will NEVER fly United/Continental and I would like to know how the NGLCC allows United/Continental to remain a "gay friendly" carrier when this is how they treat gay travelers.  

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