A white mother is suing one of the country’s biggest airlines, claiming it accused her of trafficking her black daughter.
Mary MacCarthy, of Los Angeles, filed suit Thursday against the airline for “blatant racism.” The mother is seeking to change Southwest’s training and policies, after she accused the airline employee had assumed her daughter Moira, then 10, couldn’t be hers based on their differing skintones.
She is also seeking unspecified compensatory damages, for emotional distress. mental anguish and more, along with legal fees.
In Oct. 2021, the suit claims, MacCarthy was traveling to her brother’s funeral with her daughter Moira, then 10, via the San Jose airport, when a Southwest airline employee made the wrong assumption about the pair.
While they were in the air from California to Colorado, a Southwest employee called the Denver Police Department to “report Ms. MacCarthy for suspected child trafficking,” said the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Colorado.
“There was no basis to believe that Ms. MacCarthy was trafficking her daughter,” the lawsuit states. “The only basis for the Southwest employee’s call was the belief that Ms. MacCarthy’s daughter could not possibly be her daughter because she is a biracial child.”
As the pair walked down the jet bridge after the plane landed, were whisked off for questioning by police, the court papers said. During the questioning, Moira began to “break down in tears.”
The mother-daughter duo was eventually let go, but MacCarthy claims the airline displayed “blatant racism,” which caused her daughter “extreme emotional distress.”
“The Southwest employee on the plane reported Plaintiff MacCarthy to the police without any conversation or contact with either Plaintiff which would have raised suspicions in the mind of a reasonable person.”
“To this day, when Moira and I are out in public — and especially at airports or on planes — I’m hyperaware that we might be judged and reported for any interaction we have with each other,” MacCarthy told Newsweek.
“It’s a strange feeling to be on alert about your most basic behaviors with your child, and it’s exhausting. As for Moira, she still clams up and doesn’t want to talk about what happened.”
MacCarthy’s lawyer, David Lane, said the purpose of the lawsuit is for Southwest to be held accountable and reexamine its training and policies.
“In using racial profiling to cause the Denver police to stop innocent travelers, Southwest Airlines has attempted to address serious the criminal activity of sex-trafficking through use of a stereotypical, easy formula,” he told Newsweek.
Southwest told Newsweek it does not discuss pending litigation.
In November 2021, the airline said it would conduct an internal investigation.
“We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter,” the airline said at the time.
MacCarthy at first asked just for an apology from Southwest, but she said she never received one. The mother said the interaction made her feel “attacked.”
“Customers should know the true nature of the company they’re doing business with.”
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