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Hanan Kolko Quoted in Newsday, “Suit Claims Discrimination by JetBlue”

Media Source: Newsday

Hanan_B_KolkoA Pakistani-born airline pilot has charged in court papers that he had his wings clipped by JetBlue Airways Corp., which he charged rescinded a recent job offer because of his name and background.

The suit was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan earlier this week by Faisal Baig, 40, who said he was offered a job by the Forest Hills-based carrier flying the airline’s A-320 Airbus jets. But, Baig said yesterday, a day before he was to report for training in mid-March, he received a call from a JetBlue employee saying the airline had rescinded the offer. Baig said he asked for an explanation and was told JetBlue considered him ‘a security risk.’

‘I asked if it’s my name or my religion,’ said Baig, who had been a pilot for Independence Air for nearly six years, beginning in 2000, before applying to JetBlue in January. ‘The woman on the phone said she didn’t want to go into it, but basically she said yes.’

‘I was shocked,’ said Baig, who was not born in this country but came here with his family when he was 7 years old and is a U.S. citizen. ‘I was devastated. I don’t know how to describe it to you. Her words more or less told me I wasn’t an American.’

Jenny Dervin, a JetBlue spokeswoman, confirmed that the airline had been advised the lawsuit was filed but said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

‘We’re going to choose to respond to these allegations in the proper legal process,’ Dervin said.

On its Web site, JetBlue says it is ‘focused on hiring Crewmembers [employees] based on the quality of their experience, skills, work record, education, training, motivation, attitude and character, without regard for their identification, or perceived identification, with any group or classification of people.’

Baig, who was raised in Yonkers and lives in Raleigh, N.C., learned to fly at a private flying school in Brownsville, Texas. He worked to put himself through flight school before applying for a job at Atlantic Coast Airlines, which later became Independence Air. After filing for bankruptcy, Independence ceased operations this past January.

Baig’s attorney, Derek Smith of Manhattan, said he did not know whether JetBlue’s action was the result of a mistake by an employee. But, he said, ‘Corporations are composed of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individuals. Any particular act by anyone in the company can be a discriminatory one, at which point the company becomes responsible.’

Hanan Kolko, a labor lawyer at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein’s Manhattan office, said discrimination suits based on ethnic background have become more numerous since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

‘I think that employer concerns about security have been raised since 9/11, and general suspicion of Muslims and Middle Easterners has increased,’ Kolko said.

Baig said he found it ironic that even though he was considered a security risk by JetBlue, the airline sent him a detailed package of technical material about the Airbus.

‘They sent me all the material so I can study the Airbus,’ he said.