A white mother who was accused of human trafficking by a Southwest Airlines employee because the woman was traveling with her biracial daughter has filed a lawsuit accusing the company of racial discrimination.
Mary MacCarthy was traveling with her 10-year-old daughter on 22 October 2021 on a Southwest flight from California to Denver to attend a funeral, according to a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Colorado.
As MacCarthy and her daughter were exiting the plane at Denver international airport, they were immediately approached by two local police officers. The police blocked MacCarthy and her daughter from leaving the jetway and entering the airport’s terminal.
“The officers informed them that they wanted to question plaintiff MacCarthy and her daughter because a Southwest Airlines employee had reported them as suspicious and plaintiff MacCarthy as a potential human trafficker,” said the lawsuit, reviewed by the Guardian.
While MacCarthy and her daughter were in-flight, a Southwest employee had reported MacCarthy to the police, according to the complaint.
MacCarthy and her daughter were eventually allowed to leave – but only after MacCarthy provided identification and faced questioning by the officers.
The confrontation caused MacCarthy and her daughter “extreme emotional distress”, the lawsuit said. MacCarthy’s daughter cried while officers were questioning her mother, “fearing that she and/or her mother were in legal trouble for some reason”.
“To this day, whenever the incident is mentioned, [the daughter] goes silent and does not speak about it,” the suit said.
Southwestern Airlines declined to comment on the complaint to the Guardian, saying the company could not speak about any pending litigation.
But, at the the time MacCarthy was stopped, an airline spokesperson told CBS News that the company was investigating the woman’s concerns.
“We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter,” a Southwest spokesperson said to CBS in 2021. “We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us.”
The suit alleges Southwest Airlines has a history of racially profiling mixed-race families.
In January 2021, Luca Guerreri, a white man, was removed from a plane for questioning after being suspected of human trafficking while traveling with his Black daughter.
Guerreri also made a complaint to Southwest airlines about his experience.
“Southwest did not take steps to correct the racist assumptions its employees make about mixed-race families traveling together,” the Colorado suit said.