A federal courtroom in Houston, TX was packed this week to hear testimony in the lawsuit involving a gay couple and the United Airlines employee who they claim removed their giant purple dildo from their luggage, slathered it “with a greasy, foul-smelling substance,” and duct taped it to the outside of their duffle bag before sending it out onto an airport baggage carousel in Virginia back in 2011.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt initially dismissed the lawsuit in December 2012, but a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reinstated the case in 2013. This week, it went to trial before a seven member jury.
Christopher Bridgeman and his husband, Martin Borger, are suing the airline for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress for the humiliation they suffered upon seeing the luggage emerge at Norfolk International Airport’s baggage claim.
“I truly believed this happened because I am gay,” Bridgeman told the court earlier this week, after explaining that the toy had been discreetly tucked between neatly folded clothes prior to being removed from the bag.
As a result of the incident, the men claim they experienced “such a high degree of shock and embarrassment that they felt compelled to call two friends to come to the airport to assist them.” In the years following, they suffered from anxiety, paranoia, sleeping deprivation and body weight fluctuations.
But lawyers for United aren’t buying any of it.
“What really happened is that the plaintiff’s bag was overstuffed,” defense attorney Edward “Teddy” Adams said during his opening remarks, adding that, as a result, the zipper on the duffle busted and the sex toy popped out.
Emmanuel “Jack” Fortunat, the now-retired baggage handler at the center of the scandal, firmly denied tampering with the couple’s bag or sending it out onto the baggage carousel.
“As God as my witness,” he told jurors, “I would never take a bag in that condition and put it on a belt to send it up to a customer. You have to take pride in your job and I did.”
But Bridgeman insisted to the jury that his bag wasn’t overstuffed and the zipper wasn’t broken.
The trial continues.