updated 1/16/2007 2:44:21 PM ET 2007-01-16T19:44:21

A Florida man removed from an American Airlines flight because he was considered a security threat has won a $400,000 jury award in a case that accused the airline of racial profiling.

John Cerqueira, a U.S. citizen of Portuguese descent, charged that he was removed from a 2003 flight at Boston’s Logan International Airport because he appeared Middle Eastern, and was denied service even after police determined he did not pose a threat.

Cerqueira’s attorneys said Tuesday that the suit, which accused the airline of violating his civil rights, was the first of its kind to go to trial. The federal jury in Massachusetts made its decision Friday.

“It’s part of this whole debate about security versus civil rights,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which represented Cerqueira. “We don’t think there’s any conflict between security and civil rights. And the jury came down on our side in this.”

Civil-liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union say racial profiling, or ethnic-based targeting, against Middle Easterners has risen in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks. Two planes out of Boston, including an American Airlines aircraft, were among the four hijacked in the attacks.

In Cerqueira’s incident, police removed him and two Israeli men from a Dec. 28, 2003, flight bound from Boston for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Israelis, whom Cerqueira did not know, had drawn attention by speaking loudly in a non-English language, according to court papers. Cerqueira charged that he was removed from the plane with the other two because of their similar “color and physical appearance.”

Police released all three after questioning them for two hours.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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