A United Airlines airport agent is accused of using a racial slur against a customer and faces a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
The charge against Carmella Davano was filed in municipal court in Houston last month after a Feb. 26 incident at Bush Intercontinental Airport. United says Davano has been removed from working while the airline investigates the incident.
Houston Police spokesman Victor Senties said Tuesday that passenger Cacilie Hughes, who is black, and two witnesses told officers that the agent called her a monkey.
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Hughes told police that after her plane arrived in Houston, she walked on the tarmac to see if workers were unloading bags, and Davano yelled at her to return inside the terminal. Hughes said the confrontation occurred after she asked Davano for a supervisor so she could discuss other issues about the flight.
Senties said officers issued a citation against Davano. The charge is punishable by a fine of up to $500. A jury trial is scheduled for June 3.
The Associated Press was unable to reach Davano, and both police and United Airlines said they did not know if she has a lawyer.
United Airlines spokesman Jonathan Guerin said Davano has been removed from duty since the incident while the matter is investigated. Guerin said that when the investigation is over, United will take appropriate action "up to and including termination."
Guerin said United has "zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind."
The New York Times identified Hughes as an actress and co-founder of a nonprofit group, the Big Sister Little Sister Mentoring Program group. She told the newspaper she was returning home to Houston from a speaking engagement in Michigan when the airport encounter occurred.
In 2017, after an American Airlines pilot ordered activist Tamika Mallory off a plane, the NAACP issued an advisory warning African Americans that they could face bias or even safety concerns on the airline. The civil rights group lifted the advisory last year after American made several changes including training employees against implicit bias.