Woman Wins $27.5 Million in Suit Against Southwest Airlines

EL PASO, Texas_A jury awarded $27.5 million (€22.72 million) in damages to a woman of Iranian descent who alleged she was a victim of racial profiling when Southwest Airlines accused her of assaulting a flight attendant and interfering with a flight crew.

Samantha Carrington, of Santa Barbara, California, won in the civil case Friday after suing the Dallas-based carrier for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Carrington was arrested by federal authorities in 2003 after her Houston-to-Los Angeles flight made a scheduled stop in El Paso. Criminal charges were never filed.

According to court records, three flight attendants said Carrington, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran, became verbally abusive during the flight, grabbed the arm of one flight attendant and threatened to go to the cockpit if the captain was not summoned.

Carrington, 54, denied those allegations and said she was the one mistreated during the short flight. She said the flight attendants lied about her behavior.

"In the evidence it came out that one of the flight attendants stated that Ms. Carrington reminded her of a terrorist, and in our views she was the victim of profiling stereotypes and discrimination," her lawyer Enrique Moreno told the El Paso Times for Tuesday's edition.

In a sworn deposition, Carrington, who teaches economics at California State University, Los Angeles, said that since her arrest she has been the subject of increased scrutiny and security checks when she travels internationally.

Though Southwest Airlines has denied any wrongdoing, a few months after the incident the company did send Carrington a letter of apology, offering her 20 round-trip tickets. The letter was signed by Colleen C. Barrett, president and former chief operating officer. Barrett said in a sworn affidavit that she did not know anything about the case and did not write the letter.

A Southwest spokeswoman said the decision will be appealed.

"We certainly don't agree with this particular verdict," spokeswoman Beth Harbin told the newspaper. "The verdict was not based on all the available facts because those facts were not presented to the jury for their consideration."