One half of a gay couple is suing Spirit Airlines Inc., alleging she and her wife were targeted for their sexual orientation and wrongfully pulled off a jet at Los Angeles International Airport in 2022 because a flight attendant thought a rash on the plaintiff’s neck could be caused by mpox.
Jacqueline Nguyen’s Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit alleges sexual orientation discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. She also seeks an injunction preventing Spirit “from requiring non-heterosexual patrons to prove they are not traveling with sexually transmitted diseases.” A Spirit representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Wednesday, Aug. 16.
According to Nguyen’s complaint, she and her wife boarded a Spirit flight bound from LAX to Dallas last Aug. 22 when an employee asked them to disembark, leaving the couple confused. Nguyen was later met by another airline worker who asked about the rash on the plaintiff’s face, according to the suit.
“Ms. Nguyen explained to them that it was just eczema and it was not contagious,” the suit states.
But the Spirit employees expressed concern that Nguyen could possibly be infected with the virus formerly known as monkeypox whose name was changed by the World Health Organization in November 2022, saying the term monkeypox could be construed as stigmatizing and racist despite a lack of evidence to support their speculation, the suit states.
“This assumption demonstrated that Spirit Airlines was stereotyping Ms. Nguyen as they seemed to believe that gay people are more vulnerable to carrying the disease,” the suit states. Nguyen felt shamed and embarrassed and cried, the suit states.
The Spirit Airlines employees confirmed a flight attendant had reported Nguyen’s rash and told the couple that they needed to understand they were being questioned because of health concerns at the time about the mpox virus, the suit states. Nguyen’s wife told the airline employees that their conduct was unlawful and discriminatory and that they had no right to remove passengers based on a suspicion one could have mpox, the suit states. The couple was allowed to reboard the jet after Nguyen showed the employees a cream she used to treat her eczema, the suit states.
“It was clear to everyone onboard that the rash was the reason why the plane was departing late,” according to the suit, which additionally states that Nguyen hid her face because she felt humiliated and shamed by her ordeal, the suit states.
When the flight landed, a flight attendant sat next to the couple and put $30 in one of Nguyen’s wife’s hands, telling both women to “go put gas in their tank or get dinner,” according to the suit.