American Airlines sued for removing Black passengers from flight

By Reuters   May 29, 2024 | 05:08 pm PT
American Airlines sued for removing Black passengers from flight
An American Airlines plane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport, California, U.S. in 2018. Photo by Reuters
American Airlines was accused in a lawsuit on Wednesday of race discrimination for temporarily removing three Black men from a flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to New York City.

In a complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn, the plaintiffs said they and five other Black men were removed from the flight in January for about an hour after a white flight attendant complained about a passenger with offensive body odor.

But none of the men ordered off the plane had an odor, and had clearly been targeted based on their race because all of them were Black, the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit. They called the incident "traumatic, upsetting, scary, humiliating, and degrading."

The men accused the airline of violating a Civil War-era law banning race discrimination in contracts. They are seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages for "malicious, willful... and reckless conduct."

American Airlines said in a statement it was investigating the matter, and that the claims did not reflect the company's values.

"We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us," the airline said.

Susan Huhta, a lawyer for the three plaintiffs, said in a statement that the incident was part of a "disturbing history" of allegations that American discriminates against Black passengers.

Last month, NPR and other outlets reported that a Black retired judge from Chicago had filed a complaint with American saying she was blocked from using a first-class bathroom on a flight even though she had a first-class ticket.

And in separate incidents last year, track and field star Sha'Carri Richardson and musician David Ryan Harris, who are Black, said on social media that they were falsely accused of wrongdoing by American flight attendants.

Richardson said she was removed from a plane for allegedly harassing an attendant, and Harris said he was suspected of child trafficking while traveling with his biracial children. The airline apologized to Harris and said Richardson was booked on a different flight.

In 2017, the NAACP urged Black travelers not to fly American, citing what it said were a series of racially-based incidents. The civil rights organization withdrew its advisory after the airline agreed to update its policies and train employees on implicit bias.

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