In-Flight Discrimination

In a landmark racial profiling case, Samantha Carrington — a part-time Santa Barbara resident born and raised in Iran — won a $27.5 million judgment last Wednesday against Southwest Airlines. An all-Latino civil jury in El Paso, Texas found that Carrington was falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted because flight attendants thought she resembled a terrorist. Carrington, 54, was arrested in October 2003 for interfering with the crew on a Houston to Los Angeles flight. She was escorted off the plane in El Paso at 11 p.m. and released from custody the following morning after an FBI agent concluded he did not believe the flight attendants’ version of events. Attendants claimed Carrington grabbed one attendant’s arm and threatened to enter the cabin unless the captain was summoned; Carrington maintained that she merely complained about the in-flight service. After hearing testimony that one of the attendants said Carrington “reminded [her] of a terrorist,” the jury decided to order the airlines to pay $25 million in punitive damages; even the prosecution was surprised by the enormity of the figure. Southwest Airlines plans to appeal.

A conservative assistant professor of economics at California State University in Los Angeles, Carrington earned a bachelor of arts at the National University of Iran in 1974 and her graduate degrees from UCSB. She changed her name from Mahvash Pezeshk-Korstani to Samantha Carrington upon becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, in the hope of preventing potential discrimination. Carrington sits on the Simi Valley Police Association’s Business Roundtable. In February 2003, she was one of 250 signatories on an open letter praising President Bush’s proposed economic policy. Her attorney, Enrique Moreno, was twice nominated by former President Clinton to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but Republicans torpedoed the nomination.

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