The lawsuit recounts how the female TSA agent touched a female passenger’s genitals after she asked questions about search procedures.
A woman is suing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), claiming a security screener groped her at a North Carolina airport.
The lawsuit was filed last week in federal court. The complaint names the U.S. government as a defendant alongside the individual TSA agent.
As The New York Times notes, the accused staffer is also female.
The suit recounts how the passenger—whose identity wasn’t divulged by the Times—went through security screening at Asheville Regional Airport in June. The woman was on her way home to the Los Angeles area when she was singled out for screening.
The plaintiff alleges she specifically asked whether the search would involve her genitals being touched, to which the agent—who’s referred to only as “Robinson” in court documents–responded “no.”
TSA procedure, writes The Citizen Times, dictates that any touching should be limited to “sliding” and “swiping.” During the “sliding” phase of a search, agents are permitted to drag their hand over a passenger’s skin or affects until they meet resistance. When they “swipe,” they use the back side of their hands to check the front of a traveler’s groin.
But the lawsuit states that Robinson began to improvise. Deviating from ordinary procedure, she demanded that the plaintiff spread her legs—an order without precedent from the TSA guidebook, which attorneys say was issued “to provide greater access to fondle [the passenger’s] vulva for Robinson’s self-gratification.”
Robinson then allegedly slipped her hand inside the woman’s shorts and intentionally touched her vagina. According to the plaintiff and her attorneys, the agent did so for “sexual gratification and/or for the purpose of humiliating” the passenger “in retaliation for questioning the search.”
“After [plaintiff] involuntarily flinched as Robinson’s hand made contact with her labia,” the lawsuit says, Robinson said “resisting” would necessitate a second search.
The passenger, reports The Citizen Times, immediately filed a claim against Robison and the Transportation Security Administration. In its September response, the TSA denied responsibility, suggesting “it would not consider the claim without additional documentation.”
Attorneys for the passenger say that the TSA’s request for further documentation is legally necessary.
“Given clear and unambiguous policy and training to the contrary, no reasonable TSA screener or manager would have thought that they were allowed to put their hands inside the shorts of a traveler to grope the traveler’s vulva, nor to use the front of their hands to grab a traveler’s intimate areas during a standard body scanner resolution pat down,” the plaintiff’s lawyers wrote.
The woman, says The Citizen Times, is seeking “actual damages for battery, loss of liberty, unconstitutional search, and any emotional damages stemming therefrom in an amount to be determined by a jury.”