TSA: Forced Strip-Search No More Offensive Than Voluntarily Using a Locker Room

TSA's Motion to Dismiss Mengert Lawsuit
The TSA fails to appreciate the value of consent.

In June, my client Rhonda Mengert filed suit against the TSA for forcing her to expose herself and show them a feminine hygiene product she was wearing.  The strip-search of this 51-year-old grandmother was flatly against TSA’s own rules, yet strip-searches happen over and over at airports across the country, perhaps as a result of poor training, high turnover, failed background checks, or… well, who really knows why they can’t get it together?

What we do know from the TSA’s 24-page reply to the lawsuit (.pdf), a motion to dismiss filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, is that they don’t think they should be held responsible.  Much of their rationale is the standard technical stuff that one expects of defense lawyers and we’ll respond to that in due course.

One of their rationales, however, is so absurd, offensive, and regressive that I am shocked to see it written by anyone in 2019, let alone a well-educated woman from the U.S. Department of Justice.  In her motion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachael Zintgraff writes that a forced government strip-search just isn’t that big of a deal as to justify a lawsuit:

These allegations amount to no more than indignities, annoyances, and petty oppressions. Even if it was subjectively “embarrassing,” “disturbing,” “humiliating,” and “offensive,” for Plaintiff to lower her clothing and show the feminine hygiene product she was wearing, the intrusion on her privacy was no more severe than what could be routinely experienced in a women’s locker room, where states of partial undress and feminine hygiene products are subject to observation by other members of the same gender.

Is a rape victim’s trauma is no greater than they would have had during consensual sex?  Can peeping toms now use this same defense?  If not, then how can one possibly argue that having 2 uniformed federal employees force my client into a back room to show them her most intimate areas is in any way comparable to one voluntarily using a locker room?

The difference between “extreme and outrageous” and “just locker room embarrassment,” Ms. Zintgraff, is consent.  And respectfully, while I don’t personally have a lot of experience with women’s locker room etiquette, I must assume that inspecting each other’s pads is generally not a part of the experience.  At least DOJ attorneys have moved on from arguing that kids detained for weeks don’t need blankets or toothbrushes… it’s just unfortunate that they’ve now taken up selling out on women’s rights in order to avoid paying a woman who they violated.

13 thoughts on “TSA: Forced Strip-Search No More Offensive Than Voluntarily Using a Locker Room

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  1. Infuriating and outrageous, but, sadly, not surprising. When the overwhelming majority of the population indicates every day that they’re just fine with this abuse AS LONG AS IT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE ELSE, this is the result.

    You and I, Jon, and only a handful of others in this country have been publicizing and agitating against TSA abuse for well over 10 years now. Yet nothing has changed. Because, again, most Americans are fine with it. They continue to fly, by choice, when they’re not forced to, and they continue to put up with this abuse.

    I gave up long ago trying to convice my clueless friends; they don’t give a shit. “Just get me to my flight on time!”

  2. Since you brought up kids in detention centers, it’s worth noting that TSA (with their illegal strip searches) was brought to you by the fine folks at the Department, the same people who run the Border Patrol and ICE (with their illegal family separations).

    It seems that in the effort to root out terrorists who would destroy all the things we hold dear, DHS believes that we need to sacrifice all the things we hold dear.

    1. Comparing strip searches of US citizens within their own country with “humiliations” visited upon foreign invaders is absurd. Don’t like being mistreated by bureaucrats? Don’t invade.

      None of this imaginary abuse has anything to do with terrorism. It’s just the consequence for your crime.

      1. Hey, Citizen (so-called), maybe try getting your info from somewhere other than Fox and the Orange Ogre. (Probably too much to ask, I realize, but a gal can dream.)

      2. Sadists and other perverts could care less whether you’re a US citizen or “foreign invader”.The only thing that matters is that they can get away with it because they wear a uniform and have a badge. Nothing to do with terrorism? Are you out of your mind?
        A sicko that molests passengers or other vulnerable individuals today will have no problem taking looking the other way or even assisting when real terrorism is involved.

        The “officer(s)” involved should be fired and prosecuted. So should the their immediate supervisor(s), as well as the Federal Security Director above them. They are either incompetent (negligent supervision) or complicit (accessories before, during, or after the fact) , take your pick. Either way they are a threat to the safety and security of the traveling public.

        The attorney(s) who justify this unlawful behavior should be fired and disbarred. Sound extreme? Yes it is, but to justify corruption is to become an accessory to it. What good is a justice department that prosecutes innocent passengers while protecting guilty government officers and employees?

  3. I wonder what they would say to me, someone who never undressed in a locker room either? In most of my childhood and adult life, the only people who have seen me undressed is medical people, even that is rare, and my ex wife.

    This is why I tell people, if you see me on a airplane, please close the lid on my casket. Being dead is the only way I can think of that a person will get me on a plane. If I could, I’d sit up and protest even then.

  4. for extra fun, try wearing an adult diaper thru TSA. first is the alarm at seeing a white triangle around your junk. then the trip to the hot sweaty closet with the ‘agents’… the curl of their lip when they see you’re marinating in your own body fluids; the sneering righteousness of the jack booted thugs of the TSA when they get a whiff.

    the hand wanding request gets you the same treatment. i could get a prescreening pass but decoded to just fly as needed…

  5. I had an invasive search today 10/26/19. I’m a 65 year old disabled woman who must wear incontinence underwear. I’ve worn them for years and no problem. Today they decided to do an invasive search on me. I went through this same airport in Cedar Rapids Iowa many times and it literally is always something. Too sweaty ( menopause ladies), something in my rear pocket, but I had no rear pocket, something with my zipper in my jeans, well it was just a zipper. The humiliation today has done me in. After having my crotch rubbed, and felt up all over, I literally became ill and dizzy. They didn’t care and walked out. It has only been this little airport everytime. I have been through airports all around the country and Europe and NEVER a problem. I only go to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to visit my 91 year old mother.
    I filed a complaint, but am sure nothing will become of it. Why didn’t the machine pick up my incontinence underwear all the other times?.
    I am considering a lawsuit, as it’s such a little airport, they just want to feel all big and mighty. Trust me, I saw a gal with a sleeveless shirt on and her arms lit up like the 4th of July, seriously what could she possibly have.. I know it’s not just me, it’s like they use people for a training session.
    I am so sick of all the TSA bullshit at this airport I am done! . I’ve been raped many years ago and the thought of going through that kind of search is tormenting.

    I am contacting my attorney and see where we can go. There’s security and there’s extreme abuse going on.

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