Judge Seeks Damages For Alleged Airline Racial Profiling (2024)

This story appeared in the Chicago Crusader Newspaper Group posted by Stephanie Gadlin on May 31, 2024.

CHICAGO, IL

A retired Cook County judge says she was racially profiled during an American Airlines flight and now she is seeking civil damages against what she believes is a case of “travelling while Black.”

On a first-class flight to Phoenix with her husband and elderly mother on February 10th, the Hon. Pamela Hill-Veal, says an attendant aboard Flight 2765 falsely accused her of slamming a bathroom door and disturbing other passengers.

Later, when she used the lavatory again, the same flight attendant reprimanded her again, though she says she made no such disturbing noise. The accusation led to the judge being directed to “use the bathroom in the back of the plane” for the duration of the trip, she said.

“I looked at him and told (the attendant) there were other people who used the restroom, and you didn’t say anything to those three white men about slamming the door,” Veal said. “The third time I went, (the attendant) followed me back to my seat and grabbed my shoulder, pointed his finger in my face and told me I was going to be arrested because he didn’t like the way I had spoken to him – and that I had hit him.”

Hill-Veal said not only was she insulted by the accusation, having never touched the airline employee, but she intentionally remained calm throughout their exchange.

“When he touched me, he was trying to escalate the situation and I was not falling for that trick. I am 70 years old. I spoke firmly, but calmly, and told him I was dissatisfied with how I was being treated.

We had paid about $4,000 for those seats – and I was being told to use the bathroom in the back of the plane.”

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Born and raised in Chicago, Hill-Veal was appointed as a judge to fill a vacancy in 2004 and was elected to the Cook County Circuit Court in 2006 and retained as a circuit court Judge until her retirement in 2012. Prior to serving on the bench, the well-known jurist served as a professor at Chicago State University and worked in private practice.

She is licensed to practice law in several jurisdictions, including Illinois and Michigan, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth and Seventh Circuits, and the United States Supreme Court.

Hill-Veal told the Crusader she believed she and her family were targeted by the attendant and racially profiled after her husband was asked to exchange seats with another passenger, which he declined.

“There were 20 other passengers and (the attendant) could have asked them as well.” As the only African-Americans travelling in first class, she said after that incident the cabin attendant, whom she described as a young Asian male, became increasingly hostile toward them.

“Then as we landed and approached the gate, the pilot came on the intercom and asked that everyone remain seated because they were going to have law enforcement come on board,” she told the Crusader. “None came. However, when we were escorted off the plane, there they were waiting on the bridge.”

As two police officers and an American Airlines representative escorted Hill-Veal and her relatives into the terminal, she asked if she was being arrested. Passengers filed off the plane and began “snickering” and ridiculing her, the retired law professor said.

Authorities confirmed they had been called about a passenger but noted they would not arrest her.

“At that point, an American Airlines employee took me out to the gate and asked me to explain what happened, and I thoroughly explained the situation. When he left a woman (who either worked at the airport or for the airline) came over to me and said, ‘I’m sorry I overheard your conversation … and I want you to know the same thing happened yesterday (to someone else).’”

The following day, Hill-Veal said she reached out to Phoenix police department and the responding officer told her “The airline employee has no authority to threaten me with arrest. He said the only person with that authority is me (the police officer) so he should have never threatened you would be arrested,” she explained.

The Crusader reached out to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Police Department and the responding officer but did not receive a response.

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Hill-Veal also contacted American Airlines to resolve the matter but received a response that alleged she had been “intoxicated” and “aggressive” during the flight.

Attorney Lester Barclay, who is representing Hill-Veal, wrote a scathing letter to American Airlines President Robert Isom, denying the assertion that the judge had been drinking and demanding immediate redress. He also outlined a pattern and practice of discriminatory incidents by the airline involving Black passengers.

Repeated allegations against the airline led the nation’s oldest civil rights organization (NAACP) in 2017 to issue a travel advisory to African-American passengers.

In the meantime, Hill-Veal says she vows to help put an end to discrimination Black travelers face on airlines.“This has to stop,” she said.

This report was made possible by the Inland Foundation and the Crusader Newspaper Group. Read entire story at Crusader Newspaper Group.

Judge Seeks Damages For Alleged Airline Racial Profiling (2024)

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