Three Black men have filed a federal lawsuit against American Airlines for racial discrimination, alleging that the airline forced them to deboard a plane after a complaint that an unidentified passenger had body odor.

On Wednesday, lawyers of Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal filed a lawsuit in the US district court for the eastern district of New York against the airline. The lawsuit follows a flight the men took on 5 January from Phoenix, Arizona, to New York, New York.

According to the lawsuit, the three men had never met before the flight and were not seated together. However, before takeoff, the lawsuit alleges that an American representative approached them individually and asked them to leave the plane without explanation.

Five other Black male passengers were also asked to leave the plane, a press statement said, adding, “As the plaintiffs began to comply with the directive to deplane, they noticed that the only passengers who were being ordered off the plane were Black men, and it appeared that every Black man on the flight was being removed.”

After the men were removed from the plane, they were allegedly told by an American representative that they would not be allowed to fly on the flight and would have to rebook their trip. Upon asking for an explanation, the men were told that they were removed because a white male flight attendant had complained about an unidentified passenger’s body odor, according to the lawsuit.

“Notably, at no time did anyone accuse any of the plaintiffs of having offensive body odor,” the press statement said.

When the plaintiffs pointed out that it appeared they were being racially targeted, at least one American representative allegedly said that she did “not disagree”. While they were complaining at the gate, the pilot announced to the rest of the passengers on the plane that the men had been removed because of a reported body odor complaint.

The men were eventually allowed to reboard the flight after an American representative told them that there were no longer any flights that evening to rebook them on. In total, the flight was delayed by over an hour, according to the press statement.

“What happened to us was wrong. Imagine a flight attendant ordering every white person off a plane because of a complaint about one white person. That would never happen. But that is what happened to us,” the three men said.

“There is no explanation other than the color of our skin. American Airlines singled us out for being Black, embarrassed us, and humiliated us. Clearly, this was discrimination,” they added.

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

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