A California mom is suing Southwest Airlines for racial profiling after an incident in October 2021.
The white mom and her biracial child were reported to police as “suspicious” by a flight attendant.
She told Newsweek it was “exhausting” to feel hyperaware about interactions with your child.
A mother sued Southwest Airlines for “blatant racism” after she said she was accused of trafficking her 10-year-old biracial daughter, court documents seen by Insider show.
In a lawsuit filed in Colorado on Thursday, Mary MacCarthy, who is white, said she and her daughter, Moira, were “racially profiled” by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant on a flight from San Jose to Denver on October 22, 2021.
The pair, who were flying to Denver International Airport to attend MacCarthy’s brother’s funeral, were stopped upon arrival by two police officers and a Southwest representative for suspected human trafficking, the lawsuit said.
“Unbeknownst to MacCarthy, while they were in the air, a Southwest employee called the Denver Police Department to report MacCarthy for suspected child trafficking for no reason other than the different color of her daughter’s skin from her own,” the suit said.
Police then questioned MacCarthy and her daughter – who had started crying – but eventually let them go, the lawsuit said. Both mother and child experienced “extreme emotional distress” from the incident, it added.
A police report previously obtained by Insider shows that the flight attendant told officials that “the mom and daughter did not talk during the flight and she felt that it was odd and also the mother did not allow the child to talk to the flight crew.”
In a later email to investigators, MacCarthy denied this claim, saying her daughter spent much of the flight listening to an audiobook and that they had spoken during the trip.
Southwest Airlines did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for the company told Newsweek: “We don’t have anything to add right now on this pending litigation.” The outlet was the first to report the lawsuit.
A lawyer for MacCarty told Newsweek they hope the lawsuit causes Southwest Airlines to re-examine its training and policies around potential human trafficking.
In an interview with Newsweek, MacCarthy said: “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.”
“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 added.
The mother is requesting economic damages, compensatory damages, as well as punitive and exemplary damages, the filing shows.
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