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American Airlines’ simple case of mistaken ethnicity

I watched the video tape posted at the Consumerist of Bob Crandall, ex-CEO of American Airlines, and I suddenly started to understand the institutional craziness that led to the lawsuit passenger John D. Cerqueira brought against the carrier in 2005. Remarkably, a Boston federal appeals court on Thursday threw out a $400,000 jury verdict Cerqueira won against the airlines and in doing so, pretty much gave air carriers the green light to discriminate against anyone based on what they look like.

David Abel’s story, “Appeals court tosses verdict,” in the Boston Globe makes the mistake of confusing Cerqueira with another man on the flight who had been acting strangely before boarding the plane. That man, who had a ponytail, Cerqueira and another man were sitting together in an exit row. All three were removed from the plane because of the behavior of the ponytail man, whom Cerqueira had never met before.

Cerquiera’s offense? The crew thought he looked “Middle Eastern.” So, basically, a passenger who did nothing wrong, except having been born with an olive complexion, was booted from his plane and not allowed to rebook his flight, even after police cleared him.

Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick, who represented Cerquiera, said that “in writing that safety takes precedence over civil rights, the court put its stamp of approval on racial profiling.” Read Kirkpatrick’s full statement.

The case documents are on the Public Citizen Web site.