DENVER (KDVR) – A mother has filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, claiming racial profiling after she was accused of human trafficking.

The incident happened in 2021 after a white mom said she was accused of trafficking her biracial daughter while on a commercial flight.   

Mary MacCarthy and her 10-year-old daughter, Moira, were traveling from San Jose to Denver to attend a funeral, but when they stepped off the plane they were greeted by police.  

MacCarthy told police they flew to Denver to arrange and attend the funeral of her brother.

Body camera video shows the encounter between Denver police and MacCarthy and her daughter after a Southwest employee reported what she said was suspicious behavior. The employee told police Moira might not be MacCarthy’s daughter and could be a human trafficking victim. 

MacCarthy recorded most of the conversation, and within minutes, the two were allowed on their way, but MacCarthy said her daughter was traumatized.  

“As a mother of a biracial child who is often perceived as Black, I’m well aware of racial profiling,” MacCarthy said. 

According to MacCarthy, police and airline officials never said she was suspected of human trafficking.

But days later, MacCarthy got a call from an investigator with the Denver Police Department’s human trafficking unit and learned details about Southwest’s and DPD’s versions of the story.

It’s now at the center of a civil rights lawsuit MacCarthy and her attorney, David Lane, filed against Southwest Airlines.  

“If a private party interferes with a contract between two parties based on race, that’s a civil rights violation,” Lane said. “When you buy an airline ticket, you are buying safe passage from Point A to Point B. Safe passage is not concluded until you get to the terminal.” 

Lane said Southwest did not hold up their end of the deal that comes with buying a plane ticket.

“The Denver police were perfectly appropriate here,” Lane said. “It was Southwest that used racial profiling to impair Mary’s ability to conclude her contract and get safe passage into the terminal. We’re filing a lawsuit because Southwest refuses to accept any responsibility or acknowledge any wrongdoing.”

Since speaking out, MacCarthy said she’s had dozens of families reach out claiming similar experiences.  

“There’s one commonality across all the people that write to me,” MacCarthy said. “It’s that the parent has a different skin color than the child.”  

MacCarthy said she just wants to see Southwest take accountability.  

“The deeper issue here is racial profiling,” she said. “Whether you’re an individual or a corporation, you should stop and check your biases before you call the police.”  

KDVR reached out to Southwest for comment on the lawsuit but has yet to hear back.