A California woman of Iranian descent arrested in El Paso three years ago after Southwest Airlines employees accused her of assaulting a flight attendant and interfering with a flight should receive $27.5 million in damages for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, an El Paso jury decided.
El Paso lawyer Enrique Moreno said the verdict showed that jurors agreed that his client, Samantha Carrington, was wrongfully arrested on Oct. 7, 2003, when a flight to Houston from Los Angeles made a scheduled stop in El Paso.
"In the evidence it came out that one of the flight attendants stated that Ms. Carrington reminded her of a terrorist, and in our views she was the victim of profiling stereotypes and discrimination," Moreno said.
The verdict was issued late Friday in County Court-at-Law No. 5.
The airline plans to appeal the verdict, Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman in Dallas, said Monday.
"We certainly don't agree with this particular verdict. The verdict was not based on all the available facts because those facts were not presented to the jury for their consideration. We will appeal," Harbin said.
According to court documents, the jury found the airline caused Carrington to be maliciously prosecuted and falsely imprisoned. The jury also found that Carrington's conduct did not contribute to her arrest and prosecution.
Moreno said the verdict sends a national message about racial profiling.
"I think all of us are concerned about security, but I think the lesson -- and I think it's a national lesson -- is you can't have uncontrolled power that affects individual rights. ... they (jurors) were not going to let a company simply under the guise of security fly and trample on a person's rights," Moreno said.