A Black social worker sues American Airlines after employees allegedly suspected her of kidnapping a white toddler she was escorting last fall.
Shannon Murphy, a social worker from Riverside County, California, was pulled off a plane in October last year while employees took the baby she was caring for.
According to the lawsuit filed at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the employees violated Murphy’s civil rights and exercised false imprisonment and negligence.
The suit seeks unspecified punitive and exemplary damages, and compensation for past and future medical expenses after Murphy suffered from insomnia and nightmares since the incident.
Murphy was escorting a toddler at Dallas-Fort Worth for Ontario International Airport near Los Angeles, when a passenger reported her to a flight attendant, suspecting her of holding a kidnap victim.
An alleged kidnapping happened in New York City around that time, and the child involved was an older Hispanic with black hair.
The child, whom Murphy is with after a court-mandated two-week visit with his father in Arkansas, has a blond hair and “very light skin.”
After asking for Murphy’s boarding pass, airline employees told her that she needed to leave the plane with them and took the child from her.
Despite the social worker showing her work ID, the child’s birth certificate, and a signed copy of the court order for the trip, but the employees insisted she come with them.
“During this time, the baby was reaching for me and crying. One of the flight attendants had grabbed the bottle out of my bag to give the baby, but I said not to. It was my last bottle,” she said.
“Everything just started upsetting me then because we get these kids, and we take them where they’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to provide safety for these children because they’re ours when we have them. I just didn’t know what to do. I was scared.”
Murphy was let back on the plane after about 40 minutes, during which the flight was delayed at the gate, and apologized to some nearby passengers.
“I wanted to just burst out in tears, but I still had the baby with me, so I had to keep my emotions in,” she said.
“I just wanted to get that baby back. I’ve been with the company for 21 years, and I’ve never experienced anything like that before in my life. I’ve been transporting kids from state to state for years. I work overtime. I do all kinds of things for these families because I love my job.”
American Airlines said in a statement that they are reviewing the incident, and said, “We take the safety and comfort of our customers very seriously and we’re committed to providing a positive experience for everyone who travels with us.”