Jury returns verdict for passenger in refusal to transport case

Cerqueira v. American Airlines, Inc. (D. Mass. Jan. 12, 2007).  In December 2003, the airline removed three passengers, a man of Portuguese national origin and two Israelis seated nearby, from an aircraft at the departure gate in Boston for questioning by state police officers.  After the questioning, the airline declined to rebook them on another flight to Ft. Lauderdale.

The passenger of Portuguese national origin filed a lawsuit against the airline.  He alleged that airline personnel removed him from the aircraft and then refused to provide him service solely because of his perceived national origin, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and a Massachusetts antidiscrimination statute.  The airline alleged that the passengers had been removed for questioning and then refused service solely due to security concerns based on their alleged unusual behavior before and during the boarding process.

After a six-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the passenger, assessing compensatory damages of $130,000 and punitive damages of $270,000.  The passenger had also requested that the court enter an injunction ordering the airline to take steps “to prevent similar occurrences in the future,” but the court did not take such action.

Update:  As reported here, in January 2008 the First Circuit reversed the trial court’s judgment in this case.

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