BOSTON (Reuters) – A Florida man removed from an American Airlines flight because he was considered a security threat has won a $400,000 jury award in a case that accused the airline of racial profiling.

John Cerqueira, a U.S. citizen of Portuguese descent, charged that he was removed from a 2003 flight at Boston’s Logan International Airport because he appeared Middle Eastern, and was denied service even after police determined he did not pose a threat.

Cerqueira’s attorneys said on Tuesday that the suit, which accused the airline of violating his civil rights, was the first of its kind to go to trial. The federal jury in Massachusetts made its decision on Friday.

“It’s part of this whole debate about security versus civil rights,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which represented Cerqueira. “We don’t think there’s any conflict between security and civil rights. And the jury came down on our side in this.”

Civil-liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union say racial profiling, or ethnic-based targeting, against Middle Easterners has risen in the United States since the September 11 attacks. Two planes out of Boston, including an American Airlines aircraft, were among the four hijacked in the attacks. . .

“The message is clear, that airlines have to treat their passengers fairly, without discrimination, based on religion or ethnicity or perceived religion or ethnicity,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group. “Those airlines that fail to do that will pay a financial price.”


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