Kimberly Erway is suing the Transportation Security Administration for violating the rights of her teenage daughter, Jamii Erway, who is transgender at a North Carolina airport in 2019. According to the lawsuit, the TSA personnel at Raleigh-Durham International Airport tried to force Jamii to comply with a strip search after the security system registered a false positive.

Jamii, who was 15 years old at the time of the 2019 incident, refused to undergo the strip search and asked the TSA employee to press the alternate button. According to the TSA website, upon entering the imaging portal, “the TSA officer presses a button designating a gender (male/female) based on how” the individual presents themselves.

Kimberly Erway and her transgender daughter, Jamii Erway, are suing TSA for violating Jamii's fourth amendment and state rights.
Kimberly Erway and her transgender daughter, Jamii Erway, are suing TSA for violating Jamii’s fourth amendment and state rights. Photo Credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

“The machine has software that looks at the anatomy of men and women differently,” the website stated. “The equipment conducts a scan and indicates the area on the body warranting further inspection if necessary. If there is an alarm, TSA officers are trained to clear the alarm, not the individual. Additional screening is conducted to determine whether a prohibited item is present.”

Detailed on the website, individuals may request a pat-down instead of entering the screening portal. The pat-down is to be performed by an officer of the same gender as the individual presents themself. If requested, the pat-down can be done in a private screening room.

According to the filing document, the TSA did not follow the guidelines presented on its website. Instead, a TSA screener told Kimberly Erway and her daughter that Jamii would have to have her genitals inspects in a private room in order to proceed.

The lawsuit stated that “Jamii frequently has to deal with false positives when she flies” and that TSA “receives complaints from transgender individuals regarding” the issue on a regular basis. It added that “false-positives on body scanners are a common occurrence; upon information and belief, at least 20% of TSA body scans indicate an anomaly even though the traveler is not secreting any items on their person.”

Despite Jamii Erway’s request for the alternate gender button to be pressed, the TSA screener insisted that she would have to be strip-searched. When she refused, the screener called a supervisor who echoed the sentiment, pressing Jamii to comply. According to the complaint, TSA is not supposed to issue strip searches at that level and is supposed to “conduct a brief pat-down search” to resolve “such anomalies.”

When Jamii Erway continued to refuse, the TSA supervisor reportedly told “Kimberly to force Jamii to submit to the strip-search” but the mother declined. The supervisor, referenced in the complaint as Jane Doe, then “summoned a police officer” which triggered Jamii Erway’s “panic, anxiety, fear, racing heart, [and] shortness of breath.”

At that point, Kimberly Erway and her daughter left the screening area. They then rented a car and drove 600 miles to their Rochester, NY home.

Kimberly Erway is seeking a jury trial for her daughter and unspecified damages. She also expects an injunction preventing a similar incident from happening to other transgender passengers in the future. She is also suing the TSA supervisor. The complaint alleges that the TSA employees violated her Fourth Amendment and state law rights.

On its website, the TSA states that it “recognizes the concerns that some members of the transgender community may have with certain security screening procedures at the nation’s security checkpoints.” It added that “TSA is committed to ensuring all travelers are treated with respect and courtesy. Screening is conducted without regard to a person’s race, color, sex, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability.”