American Airlines Walks Back Claim That 9-Year-Old 'Should Have Known' Plane Toilet Had Camera

American Airlines has condemned a filing from its legal team that suggested a 9-year-old girl, who was allegedly filmed using an in-flight lavatory by a flight attendant, was at fault for what happened to her.

In a Monday legal filing, which came in response to a civil lawsuit from the 9-year-old’s family, attorneys argued the child “knew or should have known” about the “visible and illuminated recording device” in the bathroom.

After backlash from the public and the girl’s family, American Airlines said that “outside legal counsel retained with our insurance company” had made an “error” in the filing.

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

The attorneys who authored the defense filing have not responded to a request for comment from HuffPost.

The child, identified in the suit as “Mary Doe,” was onboard a flight with her parents to Los Angeles in January 2023 when flight attendant Estes Carter Thompson III allegedly hid a camera inside the plane’s lavatory, according to a legal filing obtained by HuffPost. 

The suit, filed in February, said the 9-year-old met Thompson when she got up to use the lavatory on the flight. Thompson allegedly told the girl he needed to “clean up a mess” before she went in.

The girl used the lavatory after he left, and returned to her seat without knowing she had been recorded, according to the lawsuit. The family found out what happened when federal authorities informed them images and videos of Doe had been discovered on Thompson’s iCloud account, the lawsuit said.

American Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 11, 2023, in New York.
American Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 11, 2023, in New York. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Federal authorities arrested Thompson in Virginia earlier this year on charges including sexual exploitation of children after a 14-year-old girl said she caught him also trying to film her in a plane lavatory in September.

A probable cause affidavit following Thompson’s arrest alleged he had also filmed other young girls in airplane bathrooms.

The argument that the 9-year-old “should have known” about the recording device appeared, among other defenses, in the airline’s answer to the lawsuit.

“Defendant would show that any injuries or illnesses alleged to have been sustained by Plaintiff, Mary Doe, were proximately caused by Plaintiff’s own fault and negligence, were proximately caused by Plaintiff’s use of the compromised lavatory, which she knew or should have known contained a visible and illuminated recording device,” the airline’s legal response read.

The legal filing also argued that the airline was not responsible for alleged crimes committed by employees, and that Thompson “was not acting within the course and scope of his employment” during the incident.

The family’s attorney, Paul Llewellyn, told HuffPost on Tuesday that the airline “should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves” for claiming the child was at fault.

“To blame a 9 year old for being filmed while using the airplane bathroom is both shocking and outrageous,” Llewellyn told HuffPost in a statement.  “In my opinion this is a depraved legal strategy that sinks to a new low.”

Attorneys for the family sent HuffPost a statement from the victim’s mother, who said the airline’s response “both shocks and angers us.”

“Instead of taking responsibility for this awful event, American Airlines is actually blaming our daughter for being filmed,” the mother said. “How in good conscience could they even make such a suggestion?”

Thompson has remained in federal custody since his arrest, but pleaded not guilty on Monday to sexual exploitation of children and possession of images of child sexual abuse depicting a prepubescent minor, NBC Boston reports.