Southwest Airlines Ex-Employee Sues Against Racial Discrimination
A former employee filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines for racial discrimination. In this image: Southwest Airlines planes sit at their gates at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as flights are delayed due to technical issues at a federal aviation administration center in Baltimore, Maryland, Aug. 15, 2015. Getty Images/Rob Carr

A former black Southwest employee is suing the airlines for racial discrimination within the organization by allowing "whites-only" breakroom at a Houston airport and unjustly firing him, court documents filed Wednesday said.

The discrimination lawsuit was filed by Jamel Parker who said the existence of the alleged segregated room was common knowledge to everyone at the William P. Hobby Airport. He added that even though the company was aware of the room, they did nothing about it until the room was removed after a recent renovation in 2016 or 2017.

"Although this level of blatant racism sounds almost unbelievable, this whites-only area for white Southwest employees existed for years until a recent renovation removed the room," the complaint said.

Parker alleged he was unjustly removed from the company for an offense which earned punishments similar to a mere slap on the wrist for white employees at the same airport.

He also accused the company of turning a blind eye when a noose made of bungee cords was hung at gate 45 of the airport in 2017. According to him, “nooses are an obvious reference to the history of lynching blacks and are hung for the purpose of intimidation and discrimination.”

Parker, who hails from Harris County, Texas, began working at the airport as a ramp agent for AirTran Airlines on Sept. 12, 2008. A few years later, AirTran merged with Southwest Airlines. Parker became a Southwest employee on July 1, 2013.

Parker said he first became aware of the existence of the segregated room, also referred to as "WB" for "White Breakroom," in Aug. 2013. Both the company and Parker's supervisor, Philip Ford, were aware of its existence, the documents alleged.

"'It's just best to avoid that,' is basically what he [Ford] said," Parker said, according to a report on Houston Chronicle.

Another instance, which ultimately prompted Parker to take the issue to court, was when Southwest fired him on April 28, 2017, claiming he damaged a power cord and failed to report about it. The incident happened while Parker was driving a pushback — a vehicle used to push an aircraft away from a gate.

"Mr. Parker did not believe he had caused any damage," the documents said. "Indeed, there was no visible sign of any damage."

Citing two similar instances involving white employees where Southwest did not fire them, Parker said the company took the action because he was black.

According to the documents, a white employee, Scott Weaver, hit a belt loader with a baggage cart and did not report the incident to the authorities. The incident only came to light when the security footage was reviewed. He was given a letter of instruction by Southwest, which is “the lowest level of discipline that can be given to an employee,” the court documents said. Similarly, another staff, Burke Jimmerson, hit a tug once but he was only given a warning letter by the airlines. He also did not report the incident, Parker said.

When Parker took the matter to his higher-ups, they responded that the accidents were different in nature. They also said Jimmerson reported the incident.

In the lawsuit, Parker claimed the actions by Southwest were a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The document said Parker suffered damages which included loss of wages, the value of fringe benefits, emotional pain, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life among other things due to the company's treatment.

In response, Southwest Airlines told Fox News that though it could not comment on the pending litigation, it emphasized “that Southwest is and always has been a company that puts its 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 company said in a statement.

“Southwest Airlines is an Equal Opportunity Employer and prides itself on an open and inclusive work environment that consistently ranks among the world’s best places to work,” the statement said. “We employ more than 57,000 People who provide the world’s best hospitality to our more than 120 million annual Customers as they travel throughout the Southwest network. Our People are our greatest asset, and it is our goal to support our Employees and our Customers who come from all walks of life.”