Three Black men removed from flight sue American Airlines, alleging discrimination

Three Black men who said they were removed from an American Airlines flight are suing the Fort Worth-based airline, alleging racial discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a New York federal district court by attorneys with Outten & Golden LLP , who are representing Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal.

On Jan. 5, Jackson, Joseph, and Veal — who were not traveling together — boarded an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to New York.

Before takeoff, an American Airlines employee approached the three men individually and ordered them off a plane without explanation, according to a news release from Outten & Golden. Five other Black men, in addition to the three plaintiffs, were also removed from the plane, according to the lawsuit.

As the plaintiffs began to deboard the plane, they noticed every Black man on the flight was also being removed, the lawsuit alleges.

Once they got off the plane, an employee told the plaintiffs and the other Black men removed that they would not be allowed to fly on the flight to New York and would need to be re-booked, according to the release. When the plaintiffs once again demanded an explanation, the employee told them a white male flight attendant complained about an unidentified passenger’s body odor, their attorneys said.

The plaintiffs were not accused by anyone of having offensive body odor, the release says.

The airline told the Star-Telegram the company is investigating the incident.

“We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us. Our teams are currently investigating the matter, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people,” American Airlines said in a statement.

The three men told an airline employee it looked like they were being targeted due to the color of their skin, and an employee responded that she did “not disagree,” according to the suit.

After being told there were no other flights available to rebook them on, the airline let all of the men reboard the flight from Phoenix to New York, according to the law firm’s release. The flight was delayed by an hour and the plaintiffs were “humiliated and traumatized by the experience,” the suit alleges.

“What happened to us was wrong. Imagine a flight attendant ordering every white person off a plane because of a complaint about one white person. That would never happen. But that is what happened to us. There is no explanation other than the color of our skin. American Airlines singled us out for being Black, embarrassed us, and humiliated us. Clearly, this was discrimination,” Jackson, Joseph and Veal said in a statement.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Susan Huhta says the airline should have not removed the men from the flight if a complaint regarding body odor was made and that the incident suggests racial profiling.

“This incident is consistent with a disturbing history of allegations that American Airlines discriminates against Black passengers,” Huhta said. “We look forward to getting these men justice and, hopefully, decreasing the likelihood that American Airlines ever does this to another Black passenger.”

The suit goes on to allege that American Airlines has a history of subjecting people of color — particularly Black passengers — to discriminatory and “substandard treatment.”

In 2017, the NAACP issued a travel advisory warning Black passengers that they could be subjected to “disrespectful, discriminatory, or unsafe conditions,” if they fly with American Airlines.