American Woman Profiled, Removed from Plane and Strip Searched

April 24, 2015

On September 11, 2011, a woman of Middle Eastern and Jewish descent named Shoshana Hebshi was sitting in the same row as two men of Indian descent on a Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Detroit. When the Indian men got up to use the bathroom at the same time, someone reported their behavior as suspicious.

After the plane landed in Detroit, armed federal officials took not only the two men, but also Ms. Hebshi into custody at the airport jail.

Although she had never met the two men and had done nothing to arouse suspicion, Hebshi was strip-searched in the jail and held for four hours before being interrogated and released. In 2013 the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against Frontier Airlines, the Wayne County Airport Authority, the United States, and various individual officers alleging that the detention and search violated Hebshi’s constitutional rights.

In 2014 Judge Terrence Berg denied the airline and government’s motions to dismiss the case, stating that there is no “suspected terrorist activity exception” to the Constitution. Judge Berg ruled that if the facts alleged in the lawsuit are true, Ms. Hebshi’s rights to be free from racial discrimination and her right to be free of unreasonable searches were clearly violated.

The case settled in 2015. under the settlement terms that can be disclosed, the federal government paid damages to Ms. Hebshi and Frontier amended the discrimination provisions of its handbook and instituted training. During the course of the litigation, the WCAA independently implemented changes to its policies and training that addressed many of Hebshi's concerns.

(Hebshi v. United States; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Michael J. Steinberg and Sarah Mehta; National ACLU Attorneys Rachel Goodman and Dennis Parker; Cooperating Attorneys Shelli Calland, Arjun Sethi and Sarah Tremont of Covington & Burling, and Bill Goodman, Julie Hurwitz and Miriam Nemeth of Goodman & Hurwitz.)

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