Mary MacCarthy and her 10-year-old daughter faced an unexpected ordeal during their trip from California to Colorado in October 2021 for MacCarthy’s brother’s funeral. According to a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant reported MacCarthy to the Denver Police Department, suspecting her of child trafficking because her skin color did not match her daughter’s.

The lawsuit claims that the flight attendant never spoke to MacCarthy or her daughter during the flight. Upon landing at Denver International Airport, MacCarthy, who is white, was questioned by two armed police officers while her Black daughter cried in fear and confusion. They were eventually released after MacCarthy presented her ID card and explained their travel purpose.

The mother and daughter are now suing Southwest in the District Court of Colorado, accusing the airline of racial discrimination against their mixed-race family and of causing an emotionally traumatic incident that still affects them two years later.

The lawsuit alleges that Southwest Airlines displayed “blatant racism,” leading to “extreme emotional distress” for MacCarthy and her daughter. It further states that the incident reflects a “racist assumption about a mixed-race family” and highlights the frequent challenges faced by mixed-race and families of color while traveling.

The complaint also refers to an earlier incident involving Southwest, where a white man traveling with his Black daughter was suspected of human trafficking and removed from a flight in January 2021.

MacCarthy and her daughter contend that the airline has not taken sufficient steps to address and correct the “racist assumptions of its employees” regarding mixed-race families traveling together.

Southwest Airlines has declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

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