A United Airlines employee has been criminally charged and will likely be fired after she was accused of using racial slurs to scold a black passenger at Houston's airport, according to police.
Carmella Davano was cited for using profane and abusive language in a public place after Cacilie Hughes and witnesses told police that the United Airlines employee told her to "stop making monkey faces" and "stop making monkey shines," Houston Police spokesman Kese Smith said.
Witnesses also told police that Davano was saying she thought Hughes was on drugs, Smith said.
A statement from Jasmine Rand, who is representing Hughes along with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, said Davano also directly called Hughes a monkey.
Hughes had gotten off the plane to see whether bags were being unloaded onto the tarmac after her flight to George Bush Intercontinental Airport when Davano started yelling at her to come back inside, Smith said.
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Hughes, who is an actress and the vice president of the nonprofit organization Big Sister Little Sister Mentoring Program, was returning home from a speaking engagement in Michigan on women's empowerment when the incident happened, Rand's statement said.
Hughes called police after nearby United Airlines employees refused to, the statement said.
"I’m still in shock. I can’t believe this happened," Hughes said in the statement.
"Tears streamed down my face as she humiliated me," Hughes said, adding she felt "afraid."
Davano told officers that she did tell Hughes to "stop making monkey shines," but she denied telling her to "stop making monkey faces," Smith said. Witnesses backed up both of Hughes' accusations, said Smith, and some bystanders had attempted to stop Davano, Rand said.
Rand noted that two racial discrimination lawsuits were filed against United Airlines last year.
In one instance, Nigerian Queen Obioma said she and her children were kicked off a flight after a "white passenger said she smelled too ‘pungent’ to sit beside him," the statement said. In the other instance, former NBA player Eric Murdock said after a seat dispute, he was asked if he planned to "lead a boycott" and was met by authorities when he de-boarded.
"Unfortunately, the racism experienced by Cacilie was not an isolated incident with United Airlines, but part of a companywide pattern of racial discrimination," said a statement from Rand and Crump. "Racial slurs like ‘shining monkey’ should be relics of history, not resurrected to fuel the fire of racism faced by so many African Americans in today’s society and condoned on United Airlines flights.”
A statement from United Airlines said the company was taking steps to begin a termination process for Davano.
"This incident is deeply offensive and does not reflect the fundamental values of our company and our 90,000 employees," the statement said. "That is why we took immediate action to remove this individual from the job. Since then, we have been following all of the required procedures under this individual's union contract and are actively pursuing termination."
The misdemeanor charge against Davano has been filed in Houston Municipal Court. She could not be reached for comment.
Elisha Fieldstadt is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.