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American Airlines makes no comment on Purcell lawsuit

American Airlines says it’s committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of its customers, but would not comment on the specifics of a lawsuit filed against the Texas-based airline by an American Samoa woman, because the case is in litigation.


In her lawsuit filed early this month at the federal court in Honolulu, Theresa Purcell, who is wheelchair-bound, alleges that she was forced to crawl across the asphalt of an airport tarmac in California, and up the metal stairs of the airplane and then on to her seat. (See Samoa News edition June 11 for details.)


Since Samoa News reported on the lawsuit several local and off island Samoans have accused American Airlines of discriminatory behavior against Purcell because she is a Samoan born in American Samoa. There were even suggestions by Samoans living in the U.S. to boycott traveling on the airline, for failing to comply with federal law and regulations pertaining to travelers with disabilities.


Asked for comments, airline spokeswoman Michelle Mohr told Samoa News that American Airlines flies more than 195 million customers of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds and beliefs per year to destinations all over the world.


“And we do not tolerate discrimination. We take our job to connect people of all cultures with destinations all over the world very seriously,” she said. “In fact, our Asian Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group brings Asians and people of other ethnicities together to promote mutual respect and understanding, create opportunities for our members to grow professionally and to support American in the Asian community.”


“That is a group formed by employees, and supported by management,” she pointed out.


With regard to Purcell's claims, Mohr said, “because the matter is in litigation I cannot respond to her specific claims raised in the lawsuit but I can tell you that American is committed to providing a safe, pleasant travel experience for all of our customers and complying with all Department of Transportation regulations.”


“Our employees are trained to assist customers with disabilities and we encourage our customers to let us know what they need to help make their travels smoother by speaking with us at reservations, in the airport or during their flight,” she explained. “We take these matters very seriously and began investigating Ms. Purcell’s claims regarding her June 2013 flight when they were first brought to our attention this spring.”


According to federal electronic court records, the airline has 21 days from the date the lawsuit was filed — on June 5 — to respond to the complaint. The court has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 24 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi.


Purcell is asking the court for a jury trial to decide the factual issues on this matter; a declaratory judgement that the defendant violated her civil rights under federal and Hawai’i laws; general damage in excess of $75,000 and punitive damages as well as special damages to be proven at trial.