ASHEVILLE NC Feb 13 2020 A woman who flew through Asheville Regional Airport last summer has sued, claiming a TSA agent reached beneath her clothes to touch her genitals, “effectively sexually assaulting her in the middle of an airport,” according to federal court documents.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 4, alleges that a female officer for the Transportation Security Administration touched the plaintiff “for the purpose of sexual gratification and/or for the purpose of humiliating, dominating or controlling (the plaintiff).” The suit refers to the TSA agent as Robinson, with an unknown first name.
Representatives for the TSA, the Asheville Regional Airport and the plaintiff’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“If you resist, I will do this again.”
According to the suit, the plaintiff was traveling through Asheville Regional Airport on June 27, 2019, when she was informed she’d need to submit to a “groin search” based on the results of the security body scanner.
The plaintiff asked if the search would involve touching her genitals and expressly refused to consent if it did, according to the documents. Robinson assured her it would not — but TSA procedures for a groin search do, in fact, require the agent to touch a traveler’s genitals, the lawsuit states.
TSA procedure dictates that touching should be limited to “sliding” and “swiping,” according to the plaintiff’s lawyers.
During the “sliding” stage, a TSA agent slides a hand along the inside of the passenger’s leg until the hand meets resistance, the attorneys wrote. During “swiping,” agents use the back of their hands to make a swiping motion along the front of the traveler’s groin.
Instead, the suit says, Robinson “insisted” that the plaintiff spread her legs in an abnormally wide manner. The suit alleges that there was no TSA rule that required or allowed this, and the instruction was “to provide greater access to fondle (the plaintiff’s) vulva for Robinson’s self-gratification.” The agent also commented that she found the plaintiff’s shorts “particularly short,” the lawyers wrote.
A still image attributed to AVL security camera footage shows the agent conducting the search. In the image, the plaintiff’s legs are spread far wider than the yellow footprints on the mat.
“While sliding her hand up the inside of the plaintiff’s legs, the TSA agent moved her hands up inside of the plaintiff’s shorts to make direct contact with the plaintiff’s vulva.”
The lawsuit alleges that the TSA agent inserted her hand into the plaintiff’s shorts, and made contact with her genitals using the front of her hands and her fingertips.
“After the plaintiff involuntarily flinched as Robinson’s hand made contact with her labia,” Robinson told her that if she “resisted,” the search would be conducted again, the lawsuit says.
No contraband was found, the attorneys wrote.
The plaintiff immediately filed complaints with both TSA management and airport police, her lawyers state, and presented a claim under the Federal Torte Claims Act to the TSA on Sept. 9, 2019.
On Sept. 26, 2019, the TSA denied the claim, “indicating that it would not consider the claim without additional documentation for which they were not entitled,” the suit said.
“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 plaintiff 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,” the suit says, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees, “cost of the action,” and any punitive damages or relief the jury deems appropriate.