By Jeff Todd
DENVER (CBS4) – A former Marine says he was abused and discriminated against by several employees of Southwest Airlines.
John Brode was flying from Oklahoma City to Denver on September 15, 2016, when things started to unravel before he even boarded the flight and ended when paramedics were called to treat him once he deplaned in Denver.
“The sad fact is, there were any number of opportunities throughout the experience for someone to intervene and do the right thing and do demonstrate decency,” Zachary Warren, Brode’s attorney who filed a federal lawsuit against the airline, said.
“This was 100 percent tied to the fact he is an individual with disabilities and has a service animal for really important medically necessary reasons.”
Brode served two tours of duty in Iraq and was injured in 2006. He was medically retired as a Sergeant in 2008. Shortly after, he started using a certified service animal.
Brode says things started to escalate when a gate agent criticized him for not alerting the airline that he had a service animal for his flight. The confrontation continued onboard. Brode says he was constantly harassed for having a service animal and was asked to publicly reveal private health information.
“John had the audacity to advocate for his federally protected rights,” Warren said.
The lawsuit has signed affidavits from other passengers that say they witnessed the harassment of Brode for his disabilities and need for a service animal.
“I think the other passengers recognized you have to treat people with dignity and respect regardless if they have a service animal or a disability and I think the conduct here was so outrageous that people were rightfully shocked with the way these employees conducted themselves,” Warren said.
Brode is asking for a trial, but he and Warren say while the court case may take months or years that they want the message out to protect other people with disabilities or wounded veterans.
“I think airlines have a responsibility to take ownership when they engage in conduct that is indecent regardless if it’s against a person with disabilities,” Warren said. “Claiming ignorance on the part of a sophisticated company like southwest airlines is simply laughable.”
Southwest Airlines did not respond to CBS4’s request for comment on this case but has an extensive website concerning service animals here.
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.