American Airlines Backpedals After Blaming 9-Year-Old for Bathroom Filming Incident

Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

American Airlines is eating its words after its lawyers claimed in a legal filing that a 9-year-old girl was at fault for failing to notice a hidden camera in one of its airplane bathrooms, disavowing the accusation as a mistake.

The airline distanced itself from the lawyers who’d “made an error in [the] filing” in a sheepish statement, telling the Associated Press that the claims made by the “outside legal counsel retained with our insurance company” did not reflect its own views.

“The included defense is not representative of our airline and we have directed it be amended this morning,” the company said. “We do not believe this child is at fault and we take the allegations involving a former team member very seriously.”

It continued, “Our core mission is to care for people—and the foundation of that is the safety and security of our customers and team.”

The original claim was made in a response filed earlier this month by American Airlines’ lawyers to an amended civil lawsuit brought by the girl’s family the previous month. The family claimed they’d only been informed that their daughter had been secretly filmed aboard a Jan. 2023 flight after federal investigators contacted them, informing them that videos of her had been discovered on the phone of a former American Airlines flight attendant, Estes Carter Thompson.

Thompson, 37, is facing one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of images of child sexual abuse depicting a prepubescent minor. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in federal custody.

In their May 20 response, American Airlines’ lawyers said that any injuries or damage the girl, a Mary Doe, suffered as a result “were proximately caused by [her] own fault and negligence, were proximately caused by [her] use of the compromised lavatory, which she knew or should have known contained a visible and illuminated recording device.”

The family reacted with fury. “How in good conscience could they even make such a suggestion?” asked Jane Doe, Mary’s mother. “It both shocks and angers us. American Airlines has no shame.”

Paul Llewellyn, an attorney representing the family, told People in a statement that to blame the child was “both shocking and outrageous.

“In my opinion this is a depraved legal strategy that sinks to a new low,” he said. “American Airlines should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”

The family’s lawsuit claims that Thompson, who was working aboard the Jan. 2023 flight, stopped the girl before she entered the lavatory, telling her he needed to “clean up a mess” inside. After Thompson allegedly taped the camera to the toilet, the girl used it and went back to her seat. Thompson subsequently “saved images of Mary Doe’s face, unclothed buttocks and genitalia to his iCloud account,” according to the lawsuit.

Thompson was arrested in January this year, after a 14-year-old passenger aboard another flight noticed his hidden camera. The 14-year-old’s family are separately suing American Airlines. Besides the teenager and Mary Doe, authorities have said that Thompson also possessed recordings of at least three other girls on other flights.

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