By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Former "Real Housewives of New Jersey" stars Jim and Amber Marchese on Tuesday filed a defamation lawsuit against Virgin America Inc, after police pulled the couple off an April 20 flight and arrested Jim, who according to a flight attendant had attacked his wife.

The Marcheses said they had been engaging in "flirtatious" conduct in their first class seats while returning home on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles International Airport, after three weeks in California filming another reality TV show, "Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars."

But according to the complaint filed in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, flight attendant Moriah Rosser, who had recognized the Marcheses and "commented that she did not like" Jim, told airport police he had choked and threatened his wife.

The complaint said this statement was "entirely false," and that Rosser knew it was false or acted with reckless disregard for its truth.

No charges were filed, but photographers and paparazzi covered Jim's release from jail, the complaint said.

Virgin America spokesman Dave Arnold said "there is no merit to this lawsuit," and the Burlingame, California-based carrier will defend against the claims concerning Rosser.

Jim, 47, and Amber, 39, live in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and have four children. Their lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for alleged defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

"They hope to vindicate their age-old right to be left alone," the Marcheses' lawyer Joshua Bauchner said in a telephone interview.

"When a married couple is on a plane returning to see their children, false accusations shouldn't be levied against them by a flight attendant seeking her 15 minutes of fame," he added.

The Marcheses appeared on the sixth season of "Real Housewives," which airs on Bravo. In May, they had threatened to sue Virgin America for $100 million. Bauchner said damages would accrue until the matter was resolved.

The case is Marchese et al v. Virgin America Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 16-07792.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and David Gregorio)