CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Growing up, Yewande Oteh dreamed of being married at her grandparents’ hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
But that dream crumbled in August 2015 when Oteh, who grew up in this Philadelphia suburb, took an American Airlines flight to the Caribbean island with her family — and her wedding dress.
In a 31-page lawsuit, Oteh, who now lives in Boston, alleges a flight attendant “egregiously” destroyed her dress following a dispute over the gown aboard the commercial jet.
“American Airlines and its personnel robbed all of us of this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Cherry Hill lawyer Yvette Sterling said. She filed the suit in federal court in Camden, N.J., on behalf of Oteh, her daughter.
Oteh’s problems began after a ticket agent at Philadelphia International Airport advised her to remove her gown from checked luggage and to hang it in a closet on the plane, according to the suit.
A flight attendant, Melanie Masters, would not allow Oteh, then 31, to use the employee-only closet and told her to put the gown in an overhead bin, it says.
Masters rejects the lawsuit's description of events.
"It really didn't go like that at all," she said Wednesday.
The lawsuit contends that Masters became “indignant and agitated” while speaking to Oteh. It states the attendant laughed when Oteh said she was going to file a complaint.
Oteh put the dress in a storage bin in the first-class section, then Masters told her to return to her seat farther back in the plane, according to the suit.
When the jet took off, Oteh’s dress was the only item in a garment bag in an otherwise-empty bin, the lawsuit claims. But when the flight reached Jamaica, the white gown was heavily stained with red wine.
Oteh and her husband, Chidi, kept an eye on the bin throughout the flight although Oteh believed they could not enter the first-class area, according to the lawsuit. The couple saw Masters and another attendant enter the bin at one point, then engage a third attendant in conversation.
“It was her belief that the flight attendants were placing something in the bin and making fun of (Oteh) and her wedding gown,” the suit asserts.
It contends that Masters’ “willful and wanton conduct … has caused a lifetime of damage.”
Oteh’s suit, which alleges negligence, infliction of emotional distress and other claims, names American, but not Masters, as a defendant. It seeks damages of more than $75,000 each for herself and four family members on the flight, including a son who was then 9 months old.
"We are reviewing the lawsuit," American Airlines said in a statement.
The misery continued in Jamaica for Oteh and her husband, who had wed in a civil ceremony about a year earlier, according to the suit.
"Both her and her husband were in law school and had to wait until after graduation to have the church wedding,” Sterling said.
Oteh, increasingly anxious during the flight, became physically ill at Montego Bay’s airport, where she and family members spent four hours “giving statements and submitting themselves to … police officers for pictures and questioning.”
Her physical and emotional problems caused Oteh to cancel planned events and diminished her enjoyment of a $10,000-plus wedding, it adds.
“It devastated her,” Sterling said of Oteh.
Oteh could not look at her “absolutely unwearable and unfixable” dress “without crying, getting emotionally distraught and severely saddened,” the suit said. After Oteh could not find a replacement dress in Montego Bay, her sister flew to Fort Lauderdale to buy several gowns that could not be fitted or returned.
Oteh did not make the Florida trip, the suit says, in part because she was “terrified that she would encounter the American Airlines flight attendants.”