Miami-Based Muslim Pilot Says Spirit Airlines Fired Him Over His Religion

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Spirit Airlines is no stranger to complaints. From its tiny seats and crippling pilot strike to advertising campaigns that have used devastating oil spills, MILFs, and prostitution scandals to hawk tickets, no airline draws groans from consumers quite so regularly than the South Florida-based budget carrier.

But even for Spirit, Ilyes Yakoub's beef is an eye-opening allegation. The Miami-based pilot says he was run out of the company and even subjected to FBI interrogation for his religious beliefs.

"[Spirit's employees] singled out Mr. Yakoub for discriminatory treatment because Mr. Yakoub is a brown-skinned... Muslim," his attorneys write in a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida.

The airline says the complaint is bogus and promises to win the lawsuit. "We believe the allegations are absolutely without merit," Paul Berry, a spokesman for Spirit Airlines, tells Riptide, "and we will vigorously defend ourselves in court.

A native of Algeria, Yakoub says he was hired in August 2013 as a pilot-in-training at Spirit, earning $1,000 a month plus a per diem as he trained to become a salaried, $34,000-per-year pilot with a chance to rise through the ranks.

It all fell apart, he says, with an innocuous query. He'd just finished an oral exam when an instructor asked if he had any follow-up questions. Yakoub says he asked about a "takeover switch" on the joystick. Also known as the priority switch, it allows pilots to turn off one joystick in case of a malfunction or other emergency.

That question, Yakoub says, mysteriously alarmed his instructor, who had earlier questioned him multiple times about his religion and national origin. Two weeks later, FBI agents showed up at his home to "interrogate" him, saying Spirit's teachers said he had made "anti-American statements."

The fallout soon continued, with the airline terminating Yakoub because of "lack of performance" even though he'd passed all of his tests. Every other member of his class was hired, Yakoub says.

The pilot claims Spirit violated federal employment discrimination and civil rights acts. Yakoub, whose attorneys didn't return New Times' calls for comment about their complaint, has asked for a jury trial. An initial hearing in the case is scheduled in Fort Lauderdale's federal courthouse tomorrow.

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