An American Airlines plane sits at the gate.
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Bahig Saliba was placed on administrative leave after a dispute over COVID-19 mask exemptions in 2021.He says he was racially profiled by security officers at Spokane International Airport.And he’s seeking $23.5 million in damages in a lawsuit filed August 1.
An American Airlines pilot is suing Spokane International Airport in Washington state, as well as three security officers over a 2021 incident which saw him indefinitely suspended without pay.
Bahig Saliba filed the lawsuit in a Washington district court on August 1, seeking over $23.5 million in damages.
In the suit, he accuses the airport and officers of racially profiling him after he showed up without wearing a mask while an executive order mandating COVID-19 safety measures was in effect.
In the court filing reviewed by Insider, Saliba says he was exempt from wearing a mask because it would create a risk to workplace safety by diminishing his piloting ability and restricting his breathing.
The pilot says that one of the security officers stood “in a threatening posture,” and the defendants berated him while not listening to his attempts to explain the exemption.
And another officer said “loudly announced” that they would go to the gate area to inform American Airlines about a captain not wearing a mask, according to the lawsuit.
Saliba then captained the 6:00 a.m. flight to Dallas Fort Worth Airport, but was placed on administrative leave due to the incident, the lawsuit says.
And he says that because the defendants referred to him as Middle Eastern in the police report, that’s evidence of racial profiling.
Saliba wrote in the lawsuit that, while he is of Middle Eastern heritage, he identifies as a white man and never declared his ethnic background to the officers.
“The Defendants were determined to punish a man of Middle Eastern heritage,” the lawsuit claims.
American Airlines and Spokane International Airport did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, sent outside US working hours.