The mother claims that a Southwest Airlines employee called the Denver Police Department midflight to report her for human trafficking, simply because she is white and her daughter is biracial.
A white California woman has filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, claiming that flight attendants and ground staff accused her of “human trafficking” while traveling with her biracial daughter.
According to CBS News, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mary MacCarthy and her 10-year-old daughter, who were flying from San Jose, California, to Denver, Colorado, for a funeral in late October of 2021.
After landing in Denver, MacCarthy claims that she was met by two armed officers from the Denver Police Department.
“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,” the lawsuit alleges. “As the officers spoke with Plaintiff MacCarthy, Plaintiff M.M. began to sob, fearing that she and/or her mother were in legal trouble for some reason.”
Attorneys for MacCarthy say that a Southwest employee aboard the flight had reported MacCarthy to law enforcement.
“Unbeknownst to Ms. MacCarthy, while they were in the air, a Southwest employee called the Denver Police Department to report Ms. MacCarthy for suspected child trafficking for no reason other than the different color of her daughter’s skin from her own,” the complaint states.
During questioning, Denver Police officers indicated that the Southwest employee’s complaint was strictly race-related.
“The officers began questioning Ms. MacCarthy and made it clear that they were given the racially charged information that Ms. MacCarthy’s daughter was possibly being trafficked by her simply because Ms. MacCarthy is white and her daughter is Black,” the lawsuit claims.
While officers quickly released MacCarthy after she showed her I.D. and explained her reasons for traveling, she now claims to have suffered “extreme emotional distress” because of the detention.
MacCarthy is seeking economic and compensatory damages, as well as additional punitive and exemplary damages.
A Southwest spokesperson has since told CBS News that the company does not “have anything to add right now on this pending litigation.”
“We are disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter,” a spokesperson said 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.”
David Lane, an attorney for MacCarthy and her daughter, says that the lawsuit intends to hold Southwest accountable for “blatant” racial discrimination.
“In using racial profiling to cause the Denver police to stop innocent travelers, Southwest Airlines has attempted to address the serious crime of sex-trafficking through use of a stereotypical, easy formula,” Lane said in a statement. “Just as the police are constitutionally not permitted to stop-and-frisk young men of color based upon their race, corporate America is similarly not permitted to resort to such profiling in using law enforcement to stop and question racially diverse families simply based upon their divergent races, which is what Southwest did.”
The lawsuit claims that the incident was entirely motivated by racial prejudice.
“The whole incident was based on a racist assumption about a mixed‐race family,” the lawsuit alleges. “This is the type of situation that mixed‐race families and families of color face all too frequently while traveling.”
MacCarthy’s attorneys note that Southwest appears to have been involved in similar incidents of racial profiling. In January of 2021, for instance, airline employees pulled a white man traveling with his black daughter off an airplane for questioning.
The father and daughter—much like MacCarthy—were also traveling interstate for a funeral.
The father submitted a formal complaint, but Southwest “did not take the steps to correct the racist assumptions its employees make” about biracial employees.
“Southwest again claimed that the fact that a white parent was traveling with a Black child was evidence, in and of itself, of human trafficking,” the lawsuit says.