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Airline employee obtained a passenger's phone number, then harassed her via text, lawsuit alleges

Updated 5:20 PM ET, Tue January 14, 2020

(CNN) - The texts came from an unfamiliar number. But the man on the other end of the conversation gave the impression that he knew her and could see her.

Ashley Barno says she was sitting in the San Diego International Airport in April 2019 when she got a text from someone asking how she was.

"I met you the other day at the airport," the person responded when she said she didn't recognize the number, according to copies of the texts that Barno's attorney shared with CNN. The man texted her that he worked for American Airlines.

"Btw I must tell you that you are gorgeous!" he added.

When Barno asked how he got her number and what his name was, the man insists she gave it to him and must have forgotten. His name is "Ahmad," he tells her. Later, Barno says he told her he got her phone number from a tag on her luggage.

"Ahmad" soon reveals he can see her, asking whether she is on the same flight to Chicago as he is. When Barno asks him to come say hi, he says he can't find her anymore.

"But you are looking very gorgeous in grey top today!!" he responds.

Barno is suing the American Airlines employee, who is unnamed in the lawsuit, over the encounter for sexual harassment, stalking and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is also suing the airline for negligent hiring, supervision and retention, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In a lawsuit filed last week in San Diego County Superior Court, Barno alleges she complained to American Airlines about the employee and says she learned it wasn't the first time he had engaged in inappropriate behavior.

"American Airlines did not do a sufficient job in hiring and supervising employees to keep its customers safe from sexual harassment and stalking," the lawsuit reads.

American Airlines did not specifically address the allegations, but said the employee involved no longer works for the company.

"American Airlines takes the privacy and safety of our customers seriously. We investigated the allegations and took appropriate action. The employee involved in the complaint is no longer employed at American Airlines," the company said in a statement to CNN.

The employee was not on duty at the time of the incident.

Lawsuit alleges harassment continued after the flight

Before the flight took off, text messages show that "Ahmad" asked Barno for her seat number and offered her the empty seats next to him. In the lawsuit, she alleges he continued to text her even after she told him to leave her alone.

"Ok its up to you, but Friendship with me will be very beneficial for you!!," according to copies of the texts provided by Barno's attorney.

"I can always give you good seats, access to the lounges and free flights too!!"

"You can think about it!"

"But if its still a NO thts up to you I will not bother you again but atleast give me a one chance to prove my self!" he wrote in four separate texts, followed by, "And I am at row 15." The texts continued, "If you want to come and join me once the aircraft get airborne!"

He continued to send her a series of texts and finally sent her a bitmoji of a man holding a flower, with the words "Forgive me?"

Later, he sent her three more texts asking about her flight and whether Chicago was her final destination.

Barno alerted a flight attendant who "was helpful and nice and kind enough to make sure she got home OK," said Joe Samo, Barno's attorney, adding the same flight attendant told Barno they were familiar with "Ahmad."

When the plane landed in Chicago, he was escorted off the plane first, Samo said.

Samo said he and Barno are not sure of the man's identity and whether "Ahmad" is his real name. Calls to his number go to a Google voicemail, and the man has not responded to calls, Samo said. Barno is unsure when the man could have gotten her number from her bag tag or whether she had met "Ahmad" before the day she started receiving texts, Samo said.

The lawsuit alleges the man continued to contact Barno for a "long period of time." It accuses him of aggressively communicating with her to further his goal of sexual contact and alleges he sent her sexually suggestive images.

Because of the incidents, Barno had trouble sleeping, eating and socializing with her family and friends and had to seek professional help, the lawsuit alleges.

"Basically, after this happened, her sense of privacy is heightened, her concern about who has her number and now she is concerned when she has to give it out," Samo said. "She is nervous when she is alone and has to travel for work."

An initial hearing for the case has been set for June later this year, court documents show.


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