Warning: Details in this story may be disturbing for some readers
A woman has filed a lawsuit against Chicago-based United Airlines after she says she woke up on a flight to find an off-duty FedEx pilot in the seat next to her inappropriately touching her and masturbating while she slept.
Anne Dowling was flying from Hong Kong to Colorado, stopping in San Francisco on the way when she says the alleged incident happened in July 2016.
According to the claim, filed in Denver federal court on July 5, Dowling’s seat was upgraded during the first leg of her flight from economy class to business class, where she was assigned to a middle seat. In the aisle seat sat Tennessee resident Monte Wedl, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Wedl was served multiple vodka sodas and took Ambien before he allegedly began touching and grabbing her while masturbating on the flight.
"We can’t comment on this case because of pending litigation, but safety is our top priority and we’re always looking for more we can do to ensure the safety and security of the hundreds of thousands of people who fly United every day,” United Airlines spokeswoman Erin Benson said in a statement.
Wedl was acquitted in a criminal assault case against him in California last year. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment surrounding the lawsuit.
In a statement, FedEx said "Wedl has not flown for the company since we were first made aware of these allegations.”
“He is no longer an employee,” the company stated.
The lawsuit claims the alleged incident began when Wedl exited his seat and told a flight attendant he had been away from home for two months, missed his wife and was “horny.” The attendant instructed him to return to his seat, according to the claim.
After that, Dowling claimed she awoke to find Wedl’s hand on the back of her leg near buttock. She said she removed his hand and fell back asleep.
She then awoke a second time, the suit states, to find Wedl’s hand rubbing her thigh, grabbing her butt and trying to reach into her pants. She cried “stop,” asked him what he was doing and removed his hand from her body, according to the lawsuit.
She ultimately fell back asleep and woke up a third time to Wedl’s hand running up her thigh before he started “rubbing her vagina through her clothes” while “rapidly masturbating underneath his blanket,” the suit alleges.
“Dowling shot out of her seat in shock when she realized what was happening and told Wedl to stop,” the suit states.
She then asked to move seats, but was allegedly told no seats were open and a flight attendant “suggested” she go talk to Wedl. She refused to do so and was eventually allowed to move to a new seat for the remainder of the flight.
The lawsuit claims Dowling suffered “physical pain and suffering, shock, emotional distress, embarrassment, mortification, anxiety, anguish” and more. It alleged United and its employees acted negligently and wrongfully for serving Wedl excessive alcohol, instructing him to return to his seat following his sexual comment and instructing Dowling to talk to Wedl following the assault.
It seeks unspecified damages in excess of $75,000.