A White Los Angeles mother has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Southwest Airlines after a company employee allegedly accused her of trafficking her biracial daughter during a trip.
According to ABC7 Los Angeles, Mary MacCarthy alleges in the lawsuit that in October 2021, she and her then 10-year-old daughter were on their way to her brother’s funeral when police approached them after landing at Denver International Airport. MacCarthy and her daughter had flown from San Jose.
“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 states.
“After significant questioning, during which Ms. MacCarthy’s daughter began to break down in tears, Ms. MacCarthy was eventually allowed to leave by the officers, but not before this display of blatant racism by Southwest Airlines caused Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter extreme emotional distress.”
MacCarthy said the officers informed her that a Southwest flight attendant had reported her after suspecting the plaintiff was trafficking her biracial daughter. The flight attendant also claimed she became suspicious because the mother and daughter were the last passengers to board the plane, and they also asked to switch seats with other passengers in an effort to sit together, NBC News reported at the time.
The flight attendant also claimed she did not see MacCarthy and her daughter talking during the flight, adding that MacCarthy further instructed her daughter to not talk to the flight crew. But MacCarthy said that was untrue.
The White mother said she went into “panic mode” after she saw the officers because she feared they were going to inform her about the death of another family member. She, however, said she later realized they were approached for something else.
MacCarthy’s daughter was heard crying in a video of the confrontation that she filmed. The mother and daughter were allowed to walk free after a Southwest representative clarified it was a misunderstanding. Despite being allowed to leave, MacCarthy said a human trafficking unit investigator with the Denver police got in touch with her to follow up on the suspected human trafficking report 10 days later.
In the wake of the incident, Southwest rendered an apology and said it was looking into the incident, adding that its workers receive training on human trafficking. But MacCarthy told NBC News that what happened had left her family “deeply traumatized by the assumption that just because we don’t have the same skin color we’re involved in a very serious crime.”
“Before you call the police, stop and check your own possible biases … We should all be more educated than that and more sensitive now in 2021,” she added.
MacCarthy is seeking an unspecified award for damages, ABC7 Los Angeles reported. “Had this little girl been white there would have been not a raised eyebrow. So race was the only factor that triggered this call to the police,” her attorney, David Lane, also said at the time. “It’s Southwest Airlines that I have an issue with. And I think this is a civil rights violation because they are causing a paying customer of theirs to have to undergo the trauma of being stopped by the police in question like this, for no reason other than the race of Mary and that of her daughter.”