ATLANTA -- The U.S. Department of Transportation is fining Delta Air Lines $50,000 for alleged discrimination against Muslim passengers in two separate incidents in 2016.
Atlanta-based Delta disagrees with the DOT's contention that it engaged in discriminatory conduct, according to a DOT consent order issued Friday.
The consent order comes after the Council on American-Islamic Relations requested a federal investigation into one of the incidents, involving passengers Faisal and Nazia Ali, U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent who were headed home after a trip to France.
According to the DOT, the couple boarded a Delta flight in Paris on July 26, 2016, to return home to Cincinnati.
Nazia Ali wears a hijab, a religious headscarf, CAIR said.
A passenger told a flight attendant that the couple's behavior during boarding made her nervous, according to the DOT.
The flight attendant "reportedly claimed that Faisal Ali tried to hide his cell phone and was sweating and that he said the word 'Allah,' " according to CAIR. The organization said Ali put his phone in his pocket after texting his mother to let her know they were on the plane, and that the flight had been delayed at the gate and it was warm on the plane.
The flight attendant said "Mr. X made eye contact with her but did not smile," and another flight attendant saw Mr. X texting on his phone "and as she passed, he changed his screen," the DOT consent order says.
Both flight attendants spoke with the captain, who conferred with Delta's corporate security, which told the captain that the couple were U.S. citizens returning home and there were "no red flags" according to the DOT. The captain had the couple deplane to take a later flight. A security officer interviewed them, then reported to Delta's corporate security that they were clear to travel.
However, the captain refused to accept the couple back onto the plane "because the flight attendants were not comfortable" having them on the flight, the DOT says.