Former Southwest employee's lawsuit alleges there was a 'whites-only' break room at Houston airport

He says he was fired from airline due to race

By FAITH KARIMI AND JAMIEL LYNCH, CNN
Scott Olson/Getty Images

(CNN) - A former employee for Southwest Airlines has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the carrier, alleging it allowed employees to create a "whites-only" break room at Houston's Hobby Airport.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, Jamel Parker said the break room was used for years until recent airport renovations turned it into a supervisor's office.

Parker also alleged he was fired from the airline unfairly due to his race, and he is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

A pretrial and scheduling conference is set for January 25 in Houston.

Southwest Airlines said it does not comment on litigation matters but said it's an equal opportunity employer and puts people first.

"We work relentlessly to foster an environment that is diverse and inclusive. We do not tolerate or condone discrimination of any kind, and we cultivate a workplace that mirrors the customers we serve," the airline said in a statement.

The suit isn't the first time Southwest has been accused of discrimination.

Earlier this year a white woman was asked to prove that her 1-year-old biracial son was hers before they could board a Southwest flight in Denver. The woman tweeted, "After approx 50 times flying with my 1 year old son, ticket counter personnel told me I had to "prove" that he was my son, despite having his passport. She said because we have different last name. My guess is because he has a different skin color."

Southwest told CNN that even though its policy includes verifying the age of lap children by reviewing birth certificates or government-issued identification, it didn't mean to disrespect anyone.

In 2016 a student at University of California, Berkeley, was escorted off a Southwest jet in Los Angeles after chatting in Arabic with his uncle on the phone.

"... (O)ur crew made the decision to investigate a report of potentially threatening comments overheard onboard our aircraft," Southwest said in a statement following the incident.

At the time Southwest declined to provide details about the incident for privacy reasons but said in a statement that the airline doesn't tolerate discrimination.

In 2011, actress Leisha Hailey accused the airline of discrimination after she and her girlfriend were escorted off a Southwest airliner in El Paso, Texas.

According to Hailey, a flight attendant said that it was a "family" airline and "kissing was not OK." The actress said she and her girlfriend were "not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves; it was one, modest kiss."

A statement from Southwest said the couple were removed due to "reports from employees and customers" that "profane language was being used loudly" and "what customers characterize as an excessive public display of affection" and "their aggressive reaction."

Southwest said its "tenets of inclusion and celebration of diversity among our customers and employees -- including those in the LGBT communities -- anchor our culture of mutual respect and following the golden rule. ... All are valued and welcome."

Southwest said it offered the couple a full refund.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jamel Parker's first name.

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