Updated Nov. 13 at 4:15 p.m. with comment from St. Louis Lambert International Airport — St. Louis City NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt said Tuesday the decision to add St. Louis Lambert International Airport to an NAACP warning list came after the group received documents about race-based complaints going back at least several years.
“Our intent (of the advisory) is to let folk know that those folks working at Lambert Field that their civil rights are in jeopardy, and maybe in some cases null and void, unless the city takes some proactive means of addressing it,” Pruitt said.
The NAACP issued a statewide travel advisory for Missouri last year over concerns about discrimination. There were 42 million visitors to Missouri in fiscal year 2017, according to the state tourism division. That’s up from a reported 41.7 million people the fiscal year before that.
At a news conference Tuesday, Pruitt said the St. Louis City Branch NAACP wants the airport to resolve racial discrimination complaints filed by black employees against the city, which owns the airport. Black Southwest employees issued complaints to the St. Louis Board of Alderman in June.
“The City takes any allegation of discrimination seriously. We expect any contractor, vendor or other entity doing business with the City to act lawfully. At the present time, we are not aware of any outstanding complaints made by any employee of Southwest Airlines,” said a spokeswoman for the airport via email.
City or county?
Pruitt said other airport employees, including concession workers, have also complained about racial discrimination. The St. Louis City Branch of the civil rights group wants to know who will address the complaints.
“None of the contacts between the airlines and the city of St. Louis at Lambert Airport provides a means for the city to enforce the non-discrimination clauses,” he said.
What that means, Pruitt said, is that the city doesn’t have the authority to investigate discrimination claims filed against an airline.
The St. Louis City Branch received a letter from Charles Bryson, the city’s Civil Rights Enforcement Agency director, saying that the agency “does not have jurisdiction in the matter as the location of the alleged incidents are in St. Louis County.”
So who does have jurisdiction to handle civil rights matters at the airport? In the case of Southwest employees, baggage handlers and ramp workers are represented by a union.
Pruitt said the advisory exists to inform people and is not meant to be a deterrent to travel to St. Louis.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to seek out, whether it’s legislative relief or otherwise, and if necessary injunctive relief, to make sure any form of discrimination … (is eliminated),” Pruitt said. “It is our mission to eliminate discrimination.
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.