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American Airlines Charged with Discrimination

DOT claims discrimination against middle-Easterners

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On top of the carrier's economic woes, American Airlines has now been charged by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) with discriminating against passengers who were or were perceived to be of Arab, Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian descent and/or Muslim.

DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office has charged American with violating federal laws prohibiting discrimination due to a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.

The complaint alleges that ten individuals, mostly American Citizens, were either removed from or denied boarding on their scheduled American Airlines flights, even though they were properly ticketed and had successfully passed all security checks.

Despite the fact that they had been removed from their original American flights as alleged security risks, some of the complainants were immediately rebooked on different American Airlines flights or other airlines, without being subjected to any additional security screening.

9-11 attacks may have spurred incidents
Most of the cited incidents happened between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2001. The investigation of American was triggered after DOT received complaints directly from travelers and after reviewing American’s own incident reports documenting passengers removed from flights or who were not allowed to board their scheduled flights.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, DOT officially reminded U.S. airlines that it is illegal to target or otherwise discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin, or religion. The first such notice was issued on Sept. 21, 2001. Most of the incidents covered in the complaint filed today occurred after that date.

The Aviation Enforcement Office filed its complaint after negotiations to resolve the matter proved unsuccessful.

  Under the complaint, American could be held liable for civil penalties of $65,000 for each of the violations cited, plus additional penalties for other violations that may be discovered during the proceeding. The Aviation Enforcement Office is also seeking a judgment ordering American to cease and desist from engaging in discriminatory conduct in the future. The case will be heard by a DOT administrative law judge in a trial-type hearing.

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