One Delta passenger is taking action against the airline for what she feels was a weak response to an alleged groping incident on an overnight flight in 2016.
On Feb. 27, Allison Dvaladze of Seattle filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Seattle against Delta Air Lines for “gross negligence leading to injury, medical bills, physical and emotional pay and humiliation” after her male seatmate grabbed her crotch on an April 15, 2016 flight departing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, The Washington Post reports.
According to the lawsuit, Dvaladze was traveling to Amsterdam and East Africa to help run a cancer program, given her work as the director of strategy for an international women’s cancer program based at the University of Washington, according to the International Business Times. Apparently, a few hours into the flight, Dvaladze fell asleep with headphones on, only to awake to find her seatmate’s hand between her legs.
“It was confusing at first. I hit his hand and yelled, ‘No,” she told PBS, but the man didn’t care and grabbed her again. Knocking his hand away a third time, she said the man overpowered her, leaning his body weight on her as he “did what he wanted.” Unbuckling her seatbelt and escaping to the back of the plane to alert cabin crew, she was shocked with the flight attendant’s ambivalence.
“Let it roll off your back,” one attendant told her, the lawsuit claims.
“They were trying to be supportive, but it was obvious they had no clear guidelines. They asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’” Dvaladze told IBT.
From there, the flight staffers said they’d investigate the matter. A male passenger agreed to switch seats with her so she did not have to sit next to the attacker for the duration of the trip.
Upon arriving in Amsterdam, the lawsuit claims there were no authorities on the scene at the jet bridge to respond to the incident. Further, the Seattle Times reported that her attacker “walked off the plane as if nothing had happened.”
Emailing the airline to inquire what the investigation had found, Dvaladze said she was eventually told Delta had no record of the assault.
A Delta spokesperson responded to Fox News’ request for comment with the following statement: “Delta is dismayed by what this suit contains but has no additional comment on this pending litigation.”
“I know it’s not fair when one person’s behavior affects another person,” an email from the airline’s customer service department read, apologizing for the incident, according to CNN. As a "goodwill gesture," the airline also offered her 10,000 frequent flyer miles.
Disgusted, Dvaladze created a Facebook page called Protect Airline Passengers From Sexual Assault, whose mission statement is detailed as “raising awareness about sexual assault aboard planes to change policies and practices and protect passengers.”
Nate Bingham, one of Dvaladze’s lawyers, described international air travel to the Associated Press as a "high-risk situation" as it's one of the few occasions when a person might sleep for many hours next to a stranger.
"After it happened to her, Allison did more research,” Bingham said. “Sex harassment on commercial flights is a disturbingly pervasive issue. As common carriers, airlines have a responsibility to protect their passengers."
The AP noted that, under a treaty governing aspects of international flights, airlines are automatically liable for injuries suffered by passengers, up to a maximum of roughly $150,000. Likewise, a measure introduced in Congress last summer calls for airlines to provide more training about how to handle sexual assault cases and would require them to collect data on reported incidents.