A United Airlines employee has been criminally charged after using racial slurs toward an African-American passenger at a Houston airport earlier this year.
According to Houston Police, Carmella Davano was cited for using profane and abusive language in a public space after passenger Cacilie Hughes and several witnesses told police the airline worker ordered her to “stop making monkey faces” and “stop making monkey shines.”
Hughes, an actress, and co-founder of the Big Sister Little Sister Mentoring Program in Houston, said Davano also referred to her as a “shining monkey.”
The woman said she was headed home Feb. 26 from a speaking engagement in Michigan when she encountered Davano in the United terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. After asking about a refund, Hughes, said Davana launched into a full-blown tirade.
“I walked up to the woman, Carmella, and said, ‘Hi, do you have a refund code available?’ and she started yelling at me, calling me a monkey,” Hughes, 31, told The New York Times on Monday. “I was humiliated, I was crying and I was the only black woman in the area.”
The Houston resident said she had to call the police herself after another United employee refused to. It wasn’t long before Houston officers arrived at the scene, where at least two witnesses backed up Hughes’ claims, police spokesman Kese Smith said.
According to witnesses, Davano was also heard saying that she thought Hughes was on drugs.
The incident reportedly unfolded after Hughes had gotten off the plane and walked onto the tarmac to see if employees had started unloading baggage there. That’s when Davano scolded the woman with racist language and ordered her to get back inside the terminal.
The airline employee acknowledged that she did tell Hughes to “stop making monkey shine,” but denied telling her to quit making “monkey faces.” Witnesses told police they heard her say both.
In March, a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge was filed against Davano in the Municipal Court for Houston, NBC News reported. The United worker couldn’t be reached for comment.
Hughes’ lawyer, Benjamin Crump, told the Times that the airline has a pattern of failing “to train employees to interact with minority customers.”
The airline has since addressed the incident in a statement, saying that it has “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”
“We have withheld the employee from service since the night of the incident pending an internal investigation,” United continued. “Upon conclusion of the investigation, we will take any and all appropriate corrective action up to and including termination.”