POSTED: 6:10 pm EST January 15, 2007
UPDATED: 7:02 pm EST January 15, 2007
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A jury in Massachusetts ruled on Friday that American Airlines should pay a South Florida man $400,000 in a discrimination case.
John Cerqueira and his attorneys accused American Airlines of racial profiling after he was removed from a plane in Boston in December 2003.
Cerqueira said he had visited family in the Boston area and was trying to fly back to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when American Airlines officials ordered him and two other men off the plane.
"I have a feeling these kinds of incidents of racial profiling happen to people more often than we're aware of," said Cerqueira.
Cerqueira said three Massachusetts state police officers escorted him and two Israeli men off of the plane. They were all questioned and later released.
"We went to the American Airlines ticket counter and they refunded our fares for all three of us and told me I was being denied service," Cerqueira said. "They didn't tell me for how long and I had to figure out a way to get home."
In his suit against the airline, Cerqueira, who is an American citizen of Portuguese descent, claimed he was denied service because the airline mistakenly believed he was of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian decent.
The complaint included an e-mail message, which Cerqueira said is from an airline official, stating, "Our investigation has revealed that our personnel perceived certain aspects of your behavior, which could have made other customers uncomfortable on board the aircraft."
Cerqueira, a computer consultant, said he flies all over the world for his business.
"To be honest, I wasn't able to get back to work for a while after the incident because I was very concerned about my freedom," Cerqueira said. "My job requires traveling so I was very concerned... afraid of traveling."
American Airlines sent NBC 6 the following statement regarding the jury's decision in the case: "While we respect the jury system, we disagree with this verdict. This decision is simply not supported by the facts nor the law. We will evaluate our legal options."
"I am certainly hoping that American Airlines will consider their policies and ensure there are proper checks and balances for situations not to get out of hand the way this situation did on that day," Cerqueira said.
Civil law suit: PDF