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.