Southwest Airlines
¡Lánzate! Travel Award Program awards Hispanic students free round-trip flights. Now, a prominent anti-affirmative action group says it violates federal law. AFP

NEW YORK CITY - A two-decade-old program from Southwest Airlines that awards free round-trip flights to Hispanic college students is being challenged in a lawsuit by a prominent anti-affirmative action group, which alleges the program is racially discriminatory.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Alliance for Equal Rights in a federal court in Dallas. The group is led by Edward Blum, a prominent conservative litigant known for his anti-affirmative action cases. They argue that the airline's program violated civil rights laws by excluding non-Hispanic students from eligibility for free tickets.

"Southwest Airlines should immediately open this program to all students, regardless of their skin color or ethnic heritage," Blum said in a statement.

The group also alleged that two Asian and White students who were members of his nonprofit were barred from applying to the program, formally known as ¡Lánzate! Travel Award Program. The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking Southwest from using its eligibility criteria, NBC News reports.

¡Lánzate! first launched in 2004 and is operated in partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. To be eligible for four round-trip tickets, an undergraduate or graduate student must live at least 200 miles from their home and be Hispanic.

The lawsuit alleged that the program violated Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a Civil War-era law that bars racial bias in contracting.

It also claimed the program violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination in federally funded programs or activities, according to NBC News' report. The airline received federal funding during the pandemic, making it eligible to be sued under that statute, according to the complaint.

This legal dispute is not the first of its kind. In fact, it is the latest development in Blum and the American Alliance for Equal Rights' efforts at targeting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs across the country following the Supreme Court case that gutted affirmative action last year.

In March, the Smithsonian Museum settled a lawsuit with Blum's group that claimed the museum's Latino Museum Studies Program undergraduate internship violated the US Constitution discriminating based on race and ethnicity.

In February, the Supreme Court rejected a request from another of Blum's group, Students for Fair Admissions, to temporarily block the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from race-conscious admissions.

Last August, the litigant also sued two international law firms over their diversity fellowships, but he later dropped one of the lawsuits after the firm divided to open its fellowship to all associates, according to CNN.

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