April 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM ET
Two African-American passengers, MacCraig Warren and Miles Warren, have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against US Airways for allegedly telling them to change out of their hoodies, jeans, and baseball caps before they could board a first-class flight. The airline, however, claims that the request simply followed industry-wide policy for non-revenue paying passengers.
According to the lawsuit, last August, the Warrens were heading from Denver to Los Angeles after attending a relative's funeral. At the ticket counter, a US Airways employee told the passengers that they would have to change into a button-up shirt, slacks, and take off their baseball caps before they could board first-class.
The passengers told TODAY that they were "shocked" and "humiliated" by the request.
After the Warrens changed their attire, the lawsuit said, they were amazed to find that two other fellow first-class passengers, one white and one Filipino, were wearing hooded sweatshirt and jeans.
"It's just discrimination, that's it," plaintiff's attorney Rodney Diggs told TODAY.
US Airways said in a statement, "We welcome customers of all ethnicities and backgrounds and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We take these allegations seriously."
US Airways spokesperson Liz Landau told NBC News that preliminary investigation indicates that these were non-revenue passengers traveling as part of the employee travel program.
"We hold employees to a dress policy," said Landau, which includes those traveling on employee passes, but, "We do not have a dress code for passengers." Details of the dress policy are not public information, Landau said, but "employees are aware of the policy and they live up to the expectations."
The lawsuit avers, "US Airways acted intentionally, maliciously, and with willful, callous, wanton and reckless disregard for Plaintiff's statutorily protected rights and for the deleterious consequences and cruel and unjust hardship resulting to Plaintiffs from the conduct of US Airways." The Warrens are suing for racial discrimination and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs seek punitive damages.
"We are continuing to investigate internally to determine exactly what happened and will respond to the specifics of the complaint at that time," said Landau.