HomeBusinessUS lawsuit challenges Southwest Air's free ticket program for Spanish-speaking students

US lawsuit challenges Southwest Air’s free ticket program for Spanish-speaking students

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A group founded by a prominent anti-affirmative action activist sued Southwest Airlines on Monday, saying it racially discriminates against a two-decade-old program that awards free round-trip flights to Hispanic and college students.

Edward Blum’s American Alliance for Equal Rights alleged in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Dallas that the airline’s program violated federal civil rights laws by excluding non-Hispanic students from the right to free tickets.

His group claimed that as a result, two Asian and white students who were members of his nonprofit were barred from applying to the program. The lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing Southwest from using the eligibility criteria.

“Southwest Airlines must immediately open this program to all students, regardless of skin color or ethnicity,” Blum said in a statement.

Dallas-based Southwest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was the latest in a series of cases Blum has filed in recent months to challenge corporate diversity programs after another group he founded last year convinced the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to uphold consideration of race as a factor in prohibit admission to university.

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Monday’s lawsuit centers on Southwest’s ¡Lánzate! Travel Award Program, launched in 2004 and administered in partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universites.

To qualify for four round-trip tickets, a bachelor’s or master’s student must live at least 200 miles (322 km) from home and be Spanish-speaking. Southwest says the program has helped more than 1,500 students.

The lawsuit alleged that the program violated Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a Civil War law that prohibits racial bias in contracting.

It also alleged that the program violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs or activities. Federal funding Southwest received during the COVID-19 pandemic means the airline could be sued under that statute, the complaint said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis)

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