The American Airlines logo is stands atop the American Airlines...

The American Airlines logo is stands atop the American Airlines Center, Dec. 19, 2017, in Dallas. Black passengers who were briefly ordered off an American Airlines plane in January sued the airline Wednesday, May 29, 2024, alleging that they were victims of racial discrimination. Credit: AP/Michael Ainsworth

NEW YORK — Black passengers who were briefly ordered off an American Airlines plane in January sued the airline Wednesday, alleging that they were victims of racial discrimination.

Three of the men filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York. They said they were told to leave a plane waiting to take off in Phoenix and noticed five other black men who also had been ordered off the flight.

The three, who did not know each other and had been sitting in different parts of the plane, said an airline employee told them they were removed because a flight attendant had complained about a passenger's body odor. The men said they responded that it appeared they were targeted for removal solely because of their race.

American offered to rebook them, but when it became clear after about an hour that there were no other available flights to New York that evening, they were allowed to reboard the plane, according to the lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, a consumer-advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader.

"If American Airlines received a complaint about a Black male passenger with offensive body odor but could not verify the complaint, the solution should not have been to eject eight separate Black men from the plane,” Susan Huhta, an employment law attorney in Washington, D.C., who is representing the three men, said.

American said it was looking into the claims.

“We take all claims of discrimination very seriously and want our customers to have a positive experience when they choose to fly with us,” the airline said in a statement. “Our teams are currently investigating the matter, as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people.”

In 2017, the NAACP warned Black travelers about flying on American, claiming that several African American passengers had experienced discrimination by the airline. American promised changes, and the civil-rights group later lifted the advisory.

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