A Washington neurologist has filed a $10 million lawsuit accusing American Airlines of racial discrimination, saying rude employees ordered him off a flight without provocation and spoiled the start of his vacation.
Neville Gibbs, 47, said he was forced to get off a plane in February and was questioned by police after he complained about demeaning remarks made by a flight attendant. The incident allegedly took place in Miami, where Gibbs and two friends awaited take-off to Trinidad for a winter getaway.
"This had never happened to me before," Gibbs said in an interview yesterday. "I go to the Caribbean three or four times a year and I fly a lot. For some reason, I think they wanted to make an example of me."
Gibbs said he was headed to Port of Spain for Carnival, a pre-Lenten celebration filled with Caribbean music and parties. He had an uneventful flight from Washington to Miami, but problems soon followed.
The plane to Trinidad was more than an hour late getting to the runway, and Gibbs said flight attendant Jerri Bell grew agitated. He said Bell told one of his friends that she had had a rough day, that black people on the plane had misbehaved and that she was embarrassed by the conduct because she was black. Gibbs said he then asked Bell, "What was that?" but that she told him it was none of his business. "I leaned over the aisle passenger and my only words to her were, 'You are rude. You are very rude,' " Gibbs said.
The complaint alleges that Bell responded: "Do you want to go to Port of Spain this evening? I could put you off this plane." Bell then went to a supervisor, who tried to give Gibbs a written warning and reprimand for threatening, intimidating and harassing behavior, the lawsuit said. After Gibbs refused to accept the warning, urging the supervisor to question fellow passengers about what had transpired, the plane returned to the gate.
Police boarded the plane and ordered Gibbs off, the suit said. He was released a short while later, after questioning.
Gibbs said American Airlines paid for his hotel room in Miami and put him on a flight the next day. But he got no apology from the air carrier, he said. His lawsuit accuses the airline of discrimination, false arrest, negligence, defamation and causing emotional distress.
Mark Slitt, an American Airlines spokesman, declined to comment on the suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington. The airline's policy is to treat all employees and customers with respect, Slitt said.
Gibbs's attorney, Donald M. Temple, said the neurologist's account was corroborated by many other people, including a white passenger from Tucson who wrote American Airlines, complaining about the crew.