LOS ANGELES - A federal district judge has denied a motion to dismiss a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that United Airlines discriminated against a passenger. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California on behalf of Assem Bayaa, an American citizen of Middle Eastern descent, after Mr. Bayaa was ejected from a United Airlines flight last December after a crew member reported feeling "uncomfortable" with him on board.

United Airlines had argued that compliance with state and federal civil rights laws would conflict with their employees' duty to use discretion in determining who should fly. The judge rejected that argument, declaring that pilots' discretion "does not grant them a license to discriminate."

In December of 2001, Assem Bayaa was ordered off a United Airlines flight from LAX to JFK. Mr. Bayaa had cleared numerous security checks before boarding the plane. He was ejected from the plane because, he was told, the crew "felt uncomfortable" having him on board. Following his removal from the plane, Mr. Bayaa was never once questioned or searched by security personnel; in fact, he was promptly offered a boarding pass for the next flight, and his checked luggage was not even removed from the plane before it took off.

"This is a great victory," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU/SC. "The airline's extreme argument was that even if all of our allegations of discrimination were true, federal courts were powerless to intervene. This sends a strong message to the airlines that they are not exempt civil rights protections."