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It's easy to make "not-so-friendly skies" jokes these days, with airfare hikes, baggage fees, and over-priced food and drink on board. But some airline behavior is no laughing matter.
It certainly wasn't for Cacilie Hughes who claims United Airlines employee, Carmella Davano, called her a "shining monkey," and told Hughes to stop looking at her with her "monkey face" when she inquired about a refund after her flight was cancelled. Now she is suing the airline.
"Unfortunately, the racism experienced by Cacilie was not an isolated incident with United Airlines, but part of a companywide pattern of racial discrimination," Hughes' attorney said during a press conference regarding her lawsuit. "We are going to fight to enforce Cacilie Hughes' civil rights, to ensure that United Airlines eliminates its practice of racial discrimination, and to ensure the ongoing criminal prosecution of United Airline's racist employee Carmella. Racial slurs like 'shining monkey' should be relics of history, not resurrected to fuel the fire of racism faced by so many African Americans in today's society and condoned on United Airlines flights."
Hughes says she was waiting for her luggage at a Houston airport in February when she approached Davano asking about a reimbursement for a cancelled flight. That's when Davano allegedly yelled at her and called her a monkey. Other people apparently witnessed the incident and asked Davano to calm down. After other United employees declined Hughes' request to call police, she called them herself, and Davano was issued a citation for disorderly conduct.
"It was humiliating. It was demeaning. It was degrading," Hughes said. "She made me (feel) powerless. I am thankful that other passengers stood up for me. Without them I would have been completely alone."
United Airlines responded to the claims, issuing a statement to Houston's KPRC2:
"At United, we believe that the diversity of our workforce makes us stronger. Together, we proudly hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. This incident is deeply offensive and does not reflect the fundamental values of our company and our 90,000 employees. That is why we took immediate action to remove this individual from the job. Since then, we have been following all of the required procedures under this individual’s union contract and are actively pursuing termination."
And before you wonder about Davano's First Amendment rights, free speech doesn't necessarily mean consequence-free speech, and employers can generally fire employees for any reason, or no reason at all.
If, on the other hand, you've been subjected to the kind of treatment that Hughes suffered in this case and you're wondering about your legal options, contact a local attorney for help.