American Airlines backtracks after blaming child for being filmed in bathroom

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American Airlines has disavowed a response from its lawyers that blamed a 9-year-old girl for using an airplane bathroom with an active recording device, allegedly placed there by a former employee.

The airline said that what it described as “outside legal counsel retained with our insurance company” made an error in filing a legal argument Monday responding to a lawsuit filed by the girl’s family.

The girl is one of several children whom Estes Carter Thompson III allegedly filmed in lavatories while working as a flight attendant. He was arrested earlier this year and next is due in front of a judge on July 1.

American’s lawyers wrote that the child’s alleged harm had been caused by her own “fault and negligence” because of her “use of the compromised lavatory, which she knew or should have known contained a visible and illuminated recording device,” according to documents provided to The Washington Post by the law firm representing her family. American’s attorneys also argued that the airline cannot be held liable or responsible for Thompson’s alleged actions.

The child’s mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the alleged crime, said in an interview that she was “disgusted and appalled” at the airline’s initial response to the lawsuit. When lawyers for the family called to inform her of the legal filing, she said she was in shock.

“My first question was: ‘Are they really blaming my daughter?’” she said. “I saw red.”

The airline faced swift criticism for the filing, the latest chapter of the case that has generated widespread interest since Thompson was arrested in January.

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

The attorney representing the girl’s family said the airline’s statement was not credible.

“The company is only saying it was an error because of the intense media backlash,” Paul T. Llewellyn, a partner at Lewis and Llewellyn, a law firm in California. “That is what has caused them to change their positions.”

Llewellyn called American Airline’s legal response “outrageous and depraved.”

Thompson is in custody and awaiting trial in federal court for attempted sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor. He was arrested in January and charged by criminal complaint at the time and was indicted by a federal grand jury in April.

Authorities started investigating after a 14-year-old passenger on a flight between Charlotte and Boston noticed that an iPhone was hidden in a lavatory Thompson had directed her to use last September. Investigators searched Thompson’s iCloud account and found four more examples from earlier in that year where Thompson had allegedly recorded passengers between the ages of 7 and 14 using the restroom on planes, as well as multiple images of a 9-year-old unaccompanied minor.

The family of the 14-year-old who found the phone has also filed suit against American.

In the lawsuit involving the 9-year-old, attorneys wrote that their client and her family flew from Texas to Los Angeles in January 2023 for a gymnastics competition and Disneyland trip. The FBI notified the family almost a year after that trip that images and videos of their daughter had been found on Thompson’s iCloud account, the lawsuit says.

The family sued Thompson and American in Texas state court, alleging negligence on the airline’s part and asking for damages greater than $1 million. The young girl is “jumpy, nervous, and fearful in her interactions with other people,” the lawsuit says, and has a tough time trusting authority figures such as teachers.

The child’s mother said she had to tell her daughter about the initial allegation because the FBI warned that it might need to ask her questions. But she said she doesn’t want her child to hear about the airline’s response to the lawsuit.

“How can a child understand any of this — and the fact that you have adults who are blaming her for something a man did?” she said. “She would not even be able to comprehend it.”

The girl had to fly recently again for her sport and couldn’t sleep the night before, her mother said. She asked whether the flight attendant in question would be on the plane, or whether there would be male flight attendants working.

When the girl had to use the restroom, “I had to walk with her and check it out before,” her mother said. “That’s our new normal.”

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