Twice Denied Plane Seat, Sikh Sues for $60M

An East Meadow man who is a member of the Sikh religion has filed a $60-million civil rights suit charging that he was twice barred from boarding flights at Long Island MacArthur Airport last year because his religion forbade his removing his turban for security checks.

Tejindar Singh Kahlon, 65, filed the suit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip against the Town of Islip, which operates the airport; Southwest Airlines; and security firm International Total Services. The suit says officials refused to search him with a metal detector or by touching his turban while it was on his head.

Sikhs consider removing their turban in public the equivalent of going naked, and the U.S. Department of Transportation said requiring Kahlon to do so was a violation of federal anti-discrimination statutes, according to Kahlon's attorney, Thomas Liotti of Garden City.

Kahlon, an attorney who is a hearing officer at Nassau County Family Court, was planning to take a Southwest flight to attend the wedding of a friend's daughter last Oct. 25 when he was asked to step off a line of passengers for the turban search, Liotti said. The flight was six weeks after the World Trade Center attack.

A Southwest manager told Kahlon that if he returned the next day he could get a flight and would not have to remove his turban, Liotti said. But when Kahlon returned, the manager said an Islip security official insisted he had to remove his turban. Kahlon was unable to attend the wedding, the lawsuit says.

Kahlon, who was born in Pakistan, has been a U.S. citizen for about 30 years, Liotti said.

"I have known Ted Kahlon for twenty years," Liotti said. "He is a first class gentleman, citizen, attorney and judge [who is] devout in his religious beliefs ...It was a flagrant denial of his civil rights, a humiliating and thoroughly embarrassing occurrence for which he is entitled to substantial recompense."

Islip spokesman Michele Remsen said the town does not comment on lawsuits. Southwest's Christine Turneabe-Connelly declined to comment because they hadn't seen the suit. The security firm could not be reached.