JetBlue Airways and two TSA screeners will pay $240,000 to settle an Iraqi man's claim he was denied access to a flight until he covered a T-shirt that read in English and Arabic, "We Will Not be Silent."
In the settlement, JetBlue and the TSA screeners deny any wrongdoing, saying they only wanted to resolve the 2½-year-old federal lawsuit.
But Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi who immigrated to the United States three years ago, cast the settlement as a victory, saying the payout would discourage airlines and airport security officials from imposing restrictions in the future.
ACLU attorney Aden Fine, who represented Jarrar, also called it a victory. "A $240,000 award should send a clear and strong message to all TSA officials and to all airlines that what happened here is wrong and should not happen again," he said.
The TSA screeners -- Garfield Harris and Franco Trotta -- declined comment, referring questions to their attorneys, who also declined comment, and the TSA.
TSA spokesman Christopher White, while noting that the TSA was not a party to the suit, said "There is absolutely no intention to take disciplinary action against the employees involved."
The incident occurred August 12, 2006 -- two days after the United Kingdom revealed a plot to bomb planes to the United States had been foiled. In response, the United States imposed a ban on carry-on liquids, and raised the threat level at airports.
Jarrar, now 30, said he was attempting to travel on JetBlue flight 101 from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Oakland, California, when he was approached by TSA officers. The officers told him he'd have to cover his T-shirt.
"When I asked why, one of the TSA officers said, 'Coming into an airport while wearing a T-shirt with Arabic letters on it was equivalent to going into a bank while wearing a shirt saying, 'I am a robber,' " Jarrar said.
Jarrar said he originally refused to cover up the shirt, first asking to speak to a supervisor, and asking if there was a law prohibiting Arabic shirts.
"I said, 'I think as a U.S. resident and taxpayer, I think it's my constitutional right [to express myself],' " said Jarrar, adding the T-shirt's message was not threatening.
Jarrar said he finally relented when it became obvious he couldn't get on the plane without complying. [...]