BOSTON (CN) – The 1st Circuit vacated a $400,000 jury award for a man who claimed American Airlines employees booted him off a flight because they thought he was from the Middle East.
The ordeal started when a man with a ponytail and “heavy accent” asked the captain of a flight from Boston to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., if he was the captain of the Florida flight. The captain said yes, to which the man allegedly responded, “Good. I’m going with you. We’re going to have a good day today.”
The captain testified that it was “probably one of the most odd (sic) exchanges that I’ve ever had with anyone in my entire career, and it concerned me greatly.”
He raised the alarm with the flight crew, who kept an eye on the man with the ponytail and two men thought to be traveling with him, one of whom was plaintiff John Cerqueira. The crew also checked the plane’s bathroom for a bomb after the plaintiff used it for “an extended period of time” before takeoff.
The captain and crew discussed what to do with the three men, given the discomfort of the crew and a few passengers who complained that the plaintiff was wishing people “Happy New Year” in a “very boisterous” manner. The captain called security to remove the men from the plane for questioning. After they were gone, a passenger piped up that box cutters had been confiscated from one of the men at the security checkpoint.
The booted passengers were not allowed to rebook their flights, and the plaintiff had to spend an extra night at his parents’ house in Fall River, Mass., before he could fly home to Florida.
For his inconvenience and embarrassment, a jury granted Cerqueira $130,000 in actual damages and $270,000 in punitive damages.
On appeal, the court ruled that the jury instructions were flawed. Further, it found no evidence that the plaintiff was discriminated against based on his appearance, because those who made the decision to kick him off the flight – the captain and an airline manager – had not actually seen him.
As a result, the court granted judgment to the airline notwithstanding the verdict. See ruling.