Emmanuel Jean Joseph, Alvin Jackson and Xavier Veal file racial discrimination lawsuit against American Airlines (Courtesy 'CBS This Morning')

Three passengers are suing American Airlines, alleging that they and five other Black men were removed from a flight due to a complaint about a passenger with body odor.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, paints a troubling picture of racial discrimination at 30,000 feet.

American Airlines: A Flight Gone Wrong

The incident occurred in January on American Airlines Flight 832, bound from Phoenix to New York.

As the passengers boarded, chaos ensued when American Airlines employees removed eight Black men from the plane.

According to the lawsuit, these men did not know each other, were not traveling together, and were the only Black passengers on the flight.

The three plaintiffs, Emmanuel Jean Joseph, Alvin Jackson, and Xavier Veal, were on a connecting flight from Los Angeles.

They allege that at no point during their journey were they informed by any American Airlines employee about an offensive odor.

Jean Joseph shared with CBS News senior transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave that he was alarmed to see only Black men being removed as he walked to the jet bridge.

“I started freaking out,” Veal recounted, deciding to record the incident on his phone.

The Aftermath: A Long Wait & Uncomfortable Return

According to the lawsuit, the men were held in the jetway for about an hour before being moved to the gate area, where they were told they would be rebooked on another flight to New York later that day.

However, when another flight could not be found, they were put back on the same plane.

Jackson described the experience as humiliating, saying, “Everybody staring at me, me and all the other Black people on the plane were just taken off.”

Jean Joseph echoed this sentiment, stating, “I knew that as soon as I got on that plane, a sea of White faces were going to be looking at me and blaming me for their late flight of an hour.”

The Lawsuit: Allegations of Racial Discrimination

The lawsuit claims that the complaint about body odor came from a “white male flight attendant” and that a gate agent, seen in the video, seemed to agree that race was a factor in the decision to remove the men from the flight.

The lawyer representing the three men, Sue Huhta, said that American Airlines has declined to provide any answers about the incident.

“It’s almost inconceivable to come up with an explanation for that other than the color of their skin, particularly since they didn’t know each other and weren’t sitting near each other,” Huhta stated.

A Pattern of American Airlines Discrimination?

The lawsuit also references other recent incidents where passengers have alleged discrimination by American Airlines and cites a 2017 NAACP travel advisory urging members not to fly with the airline, which was lifted eight months later.

Lest we forget when Sha’Carri Richardson and Talib Kweli were booted off of their American Airlines flights.

Never forget Odell Beckham Jr. was removed from a flight because they were “concerned about his health.”

You may also remember in 2021, American Airlines booted a Black couple with a 7-week-old off of a flight.

CBS Legal Analyst Rikki Klieman suggested that the plaintiffs might be more interested in making a public statement about racial discrimination than seeking financial compensation.

“The question at trial is about American Airlines’ protocols and how it handled the employees after the incident,” Klieman said.

The Plaintiffs’ Perspective

Veal expressed his belief that the situation would have been different if the complaint had involved a White person.

“We were discriminated against. The entire situation was racist,” he asserted.

In a statement to CBS News, American Airlines responded, “We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us. Our teams are currently investigating the matter, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.”

Seeking Justice in the Skies

As the lawsuit progresses, it raises critical questions about racial discrimination in air travel and the protocols of major airlines like American Airlines.

The plaintiffs are not just seeking redress for their ordeal but are also shining a spotlight on systemic issues that need urgent attention.

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