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Black passengers sue American Airlines, alleging they were thrown off a plane because of false body odor complaint

Joe Raedle/Getty Images/File

A lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of three Black men alleges “blatant and egregious race discrimination” by American Airlines when they were removed from a flight.

The suit alleges that the plaintiffs – Alvin Jackson, Emmanuel Jean Joseph and Xavier Veal – and five other Black male passengers were ejected from American Flight 832 from Phoenix to JFK in New York City on January 5, 2024, “without any valid reason, based solely on their race,” according to the complaint.

An American Airlines representative approached each of the men before takeoff, the complaint said, ordering them off the plane. The passengers complied.

“(O)nce they reached the jet bridge, they saw that several other Black men were also being removed from the plane. In fact, it appeared to Plaintiffs that American had ordered all of the Black male passengers on Flight 832 off the plane,” the complaint reads.

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American representatives told the men a complaint about body odor had prompted their removal, according to the suit. None of the plaintiffs were told that they personally had body odor, “and in fact none of the Plaintiffs had offensive body odor,” it says.

At least one American representative agreed with the plaintiffs when they suggested that they had been singled out because they were Black, the suit alleges.

Cell phone footage taken by some of the men and shared by the Public Citizen Litigation Group representing the plaintiffs shows a chaotic scene as they question the airline’s actions and records one man saying, “So this is discrimination.”

“I agree, I agree,” says a woman wearing a badge who appears to be an airline employee.

“We’re the only ones getting taken off the plane,” says one man, panning across the group. “Look at us.”

In another video, a man comments, “This is crazy. Y’all just took like eight Black people off the plane.”

The plaintiffs did not know each other before the flight and were not seated together, according to the complaint.

At the gate, the men were told that a White male flight attendant had made the body odor complaint, the suit says.

The men were eventually allowed back on after about an hour after the airline determined there were no available flights that evening.

“Plaintiffs then had to reboard the plane and endure the stares of the largely white passengers who viewed them as the cause of the substantial delay. They suffered during the entire flight home, and the entire incident was traumatic, upsetting, scary, humiliating, and degrading,” the complaint reads.

“We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us,” American Airlines said in a statement.

“Our teams are currently investigating the matter, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.”

The plaintiffs are seeking “declaratory relief, just compensation for their pain and suffering, a punitive damage award sufficient to deter American from discriminating against Black passengers in the future,” as well as attorneys fees.

The complaint also refers to what it calls “American’s pattern of discriminating against Black passengers,” which prompted an NAACP warning in 2017 related to the airline. That warning was lifted nine months later after the airline made progress in addressing the organization’s concerns.

The suit alleges that the plaintiffs’ treatment was part of that pattern.

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