American Airlines Is Accused of Discrimination in Lawsuit

Three Black men have accused American Airlines of “blatant race discrimination” over its temporary removal of them and five other men from a Jan. 5 flight from Phoenix to New York, in a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

The men said they were seated on a plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport when an airline employee went row by row asking them to get off the plane. As they exited, the passengers noticed that all the Black men on the flight, eight in total, appeared to have been removed. The men did not know one another, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on their behalf by the legal arm of Public Citizen, a liberal nonprofit group, and the law firm Outten & Golden.

Once the men left the plane, they asked for an explanation from an airline employee, who said they had been removed because of a complaint about body odor, though nobody had accused the men of an offensive smell, according to the suit. An American representative told the men at the time that the complaint had come from a white flight attendant.

The men said they had been singled out because of their race. When one described the removal from the plane as discriminatory, an American employee said, “I agree, I agree,” according to a cellphone recording that was shared with The New York Times.

“We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us,” American said in a statement. “Our teams are currently investigating the matter, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.”

The men are asking for compensation for the “fear, humiliation, embarrassment, mental pain, suffering and inconvenience” they endured and punitive damages, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Brooklyn.

They are also seeking changes at American, which has previously faced accusations of racism. In 2017, the N.A.A.C.P. warned Black travelers about the airline, citing several examples of what it described as discrimination. The group dropped its warning about nine months later after American started to address the organization’s complaints.

“This case is on behalf of the three individual plaintiffs to seek a remedy for what they went through, but it’s bigger than that,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, the lead lawyer working on the case for the Public Citizen Litigation Group. “What we’re hoping to accomplish with this case is some changes going forward where American Airlines will be reforming their practices and making a change in their culture.”

The men said they had waited about an hour at the gate outside the plane before being allowed to board again.

Alvin Jackson, one of the men suing the airline, said he had been on his way home after touring in California with his rock band, Miranda and the Beat. He plays bass guitar.

“There’s all these people looking at us like: ‘Oh, you all just got kicked off. Why are you coming back on now?’” Mr. Jackson said. “I tried to go into a shell in my seat. I didn’t want to get up to use the bathroom.”

Before leaving the plane at Kennedy Airport in New York around midnight, Mr. Jackson asked to speak with someone about the episode. The flight crew told him to speak to a representative inside the terminal, but once he got out, no American employees were around and the door to the jet bridge was closed behind him, he said.

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