A White mother who said she waswhile traveling with her biracial daughter has filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, accusing the company of “blatant racism.”
Mary MacCarthy and her then 10-year-old daughter, both California residents, flew to Denver on Oct. 22, 2021, for a funeral after the sudden death of MacCarthy’s older brother, according to the complaint filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. After landing at the airport, MacCarthy said they were greeted 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 states. “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.”
A Southwest employee on the plane had reported MacCarthy to police, according to the complaint. The officers let MacCarthy and her daughter go after the mother explained why she was traveling and showed police her identification.
MacCarthy said she and her daughter suffered “extreme emotional distress” because of the incident. She is now seeking economic damages and compensatory damages, as well as punitive and exemplary damages.
CBS News reached out to Southwest for comment on the lawsuit, but a spokesperson said the company doesn’t “have anything to add right now on this pending litigation.” At the time of the incident, a Southwest spokesperson told CBS News that the airline focused on creating an “inclusive” environment for customers and trained employees on human trafficking.
“We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter,” the 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.”
MacCarthy’s lawyer, David Lane, said the lawsuit was intended to hold the airline accountable and spur Southwest to re-examine its training and policies.
“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 told CBS News. “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.”
To this day, MacCarthy’s child “goes silent” whenever the incident is mentioned, according to the suit.
“The whole incident was based on a racist assumption about a mixed‐race family,” the lawsuit states. “This is the type of situation that mixed‐race families and families of color face all too frequently while traveling.”