Mom: Southwest Accused Me of Trafficking My Own Daughter

Mary MacCarthy, who's white, says she and her biracial 10-year-old child were racially profiled
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2023 9:13 AM CDT
White Mom: Southwest Racially Profiled Daughter and Me
In this April 20, 2021, file photo, a Southwest Airlines plane takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

A single mom has sued Southwest, accusing the airline of racial discrimination after a flight attendant suspected she may have been trafficking a child—her own daughter. NBC News reports that Mary MacCarthy, who's white, was traveling with her then-10-year-old daughter, Moira, who's Black, in October 2021 from Los Angeles to Denver for the funeral of MacCarthy's brother. When they got off the plane at Denver International Airport, however, an unpleasant confrontation arose. Police officers were waiting for the pair, and at first, MacCarthy tells People, she thought they were there to let her know someone else had died.

Instead, she claims in her federal complaint filed Thursday in Colorado, a report had been logged about her and her daughter "based on a racist assumption about a mixed-race family." That assumption, made by one of the flight attendants: that Moira was being trafficked by MacCarthy, apparently due to their racial differences. The cops told MacCarthy they'd been flagged for "suspicious" behavior. "I've been raising a biracial daughter for 10 years," MacCarthy tells the New York Times. "I know about racial profiling, and I know that 'suspicious' is a code word for minority." She notes that her daughter was crying throughout the interaction.

Per a police report, the flight attendant said red flags went up for her because MacCarthy and Moira were the last ones to get on the plane, and because MacCarthy instructed Moira not to talk to the flight crew and didn't speak to her at all during the flight. MacCarthy denies those instructions to her daughter and that they didn't converse during the trip. MacCarthy, now 44, tells NBC that a human trafficking investigator from the Denver Police Department followed up with her 10 days later, but the incident was eventually closed as "unfounded," according to the police report. Southwest is among the major airlines that offer nondiscrimination training to its staff, but in this case, MacCarthy says it was ineffective.

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"Just as the police are constitutionally not permitted to stop and frisk young men of color based upon their race, corporate America is similarly not permitted to resort to such profiling in using law enforcement to stop and question racially diverse families simply based upon their divergent races, which is what Southwest did," MacCarthy's attorney says in a statement. Her suit asks for unspecified damages, a jury trial, and payment for legal expenses. Southwest wouldn't offer comment, due to the "pending litigation." (More Southwest Airlines stories.)

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