American Airlines to pay $400,000 in damages for racial profiling of passenger

Posted on January 21, 2007


Source: Tort Deform

John CerquieraA Boston jury recently ruled in favor of an airline passenger who had been removed from an American Airlines (AA) flight because of racial profiling. The jury awarded $400,000 total, including compensatory and punitive damages, to John Cerqueira, in the first federal civil rights case challenging post-9/11 racial profiling by an airline.

Mr. Cerqueira, of Portuguese origin,  has lived in the United States since he was six years old, was returning home to South Florida in 2003 from Massachusetts . He was taken off a flight after the airline discriminated against him because it mistakenly believed that he was of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent.  Interestingly, the American Airlines flight personnel indicated in their written incident report that they were concerned with Mr. Cerqueira and 2 Israeli passengers seated next to him because of their “accent, foreign passports, and ‘arabic names’.” (see downloadable document below, page 4).

After he was questioned and cleared by the Massachusetts State Police, and despite being a frequent flier with “elite” status with American Airlines, AA  refused to book him on another flight home and did not provide an adequate explanation for its decision.

To download a copy of the complaint of John Cerquiera against American Airlines, please click here.

Finally, as noted in Cerquiera’s downloadable court document, “In an enforcement action brought by the Department of Transportation (DOT) against AA, DOT cited eleven separate instances in which AA had engaged in such discrimination. The enforcement proceeding resulted in a Consent Order finding that AA acted in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law. […] [B]efore the incidents of December 28, 2003, DOT had repeatedly warned AA not to discriminate against passengers perceived to be of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Although AA personnel have engaged in such discrimination, AA has never disciplined any AA employee for such conduct.”

As a result of these incidents, air travel has become more difficult for Mr. Cerqueira.  He now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). He feels paranoid, anxious, and hyper-vigilant when traveling by air, has difficulty sleeping on airplanes, and avoids conversation with other passengers.

For more cases of profiling by airlines in the U.S. (namely American Airlines, Delta, United, Continental and US Airways), please click here to read the article “Racial Profiling Allegations Abound in Post 9-11 World.”