Southwest sued for discrimination over free ticket program for Hispanic students

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Southwest Airlines is facing a lawsuit filed by an equal rights nonprofit group over the carrier’s free ticket program for Hispanic students.

In a lawsuit filed in a Dallas federal court, American Alliance for Equal Rights alleged that the airline’s program violated federal civil rights laws by excluding non-Hispanic students. 

Launched in 2004, the low-cost carrier’s ¡Lánzate! Travel Award Program is operated via a partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. 

According to the airline’s website, the program is an opportunity to help foster academic pursuits for Hispanic students while maintaining family ties, even when studying away from home. 

The airline said those eligible for the program are Hispanic students currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program at a two- or four-year college or university at least 200 miles from their home. 

Recipients receive four round trip tickets valid for travel between any Southwest Airlines domestic destination. Since its launch, Southwest said the program has helped enable the possibility of studying far away from home for more than 1,500 students.

The lawsuit claims the airline can be sued under the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it received federal funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit also said the airline can be sued under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits racial bias in contracting.

The lawsuit said two Asian and white students who were members of American Alliance for Equal rights were barred from applying to the program. The lawsuit is seeking an injunction blocking Southwest from using its eligibility criteria.

“Southwest Airlines should immediately open this program to all students, regardless of their skin color or ethnic heritage,” Edward Blum, founder of American Alliance for Equal rights said in a statement.

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