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Cab Driver Gets Off Easy After Refusing Gay Customer

Penalty pales in comparison to other taxicab, private car discrimination cases

If you’re a yellow cab driver in New York and discriminate against gay passengers, you pay your fine, stay home for 10 days, and you’re back on the road.
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A yellow cab driver is back on the road after being slapped on the wrist with a 10-day suspension and a modest fine for refusing to drive a gay customer in Midtown Manhattan earlier this year.

In the early morning hours of June 13, Martin Morrison asked a passenger if he was gay, and when the man said yes, Morrison refused him service and kicked him out of the car, according to the New York Post. For that violation of both city and state nondiscrimination laws, Morrison paid a $1,150 fine in addition to his light suspension.

The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, which levied the fine against Morrison, could not be reached for comment regarding the punishment, but the Post reported that the TLC made a factual finding backing up the passenger’s account, which Morrison denied.

The light penalty came just months after the city announced the opening of a new Office of Inclusion within the TLC to address discriminatory service by taxi and for-hire drivers. The office is focused on providing anti-discrimination training for drivers, expanding public education campaigns, and encouraging passengers to file complaints when denied taxi service.

It is not clear whether the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) took action in the case. A CHR spokesperson would not confirm or deny whether the agency was involved, but noted that the commission “takes all reports of discrimination very seriously” and that the refusal of service or public accommodation to anyone based on perceived sexual orientation is “a violation of New York City’s human rights law.”

The CHR website clearly states that taxis are among public accommodations covered under the law.

Instead of treating the action like a human rights violation, the suspension was rooted in Morrison’s breaking of three TLC rules — unjustifiably refusing service, discourtesy, and acting against the best interest of the public, according to the Post.

“TLC officials say Morrison’s behavior goes against the morals of the agency,” the newspaper reported. Commissioner Meera Joshi told the Post that the penalty imposed on Morrison was “appropriat­ely severe.”

Other cases of taxi discrimination in New York City have yielded harsher penalties, but only after the CHR became involved.

A yellow taxi driver was initially fined $200 by the TLC in 2015 when he refused to pick up a black family and promptly picked up two white people. After the CHR filed charges through the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, a judge elevated the fine to $25,000.

There have also been recent cases where private drivers have not been hit by penalties, but were kicked off the road altogether.

An Uber spokesperson told Gay City News in November that a driver who allegedly hurled homophobic slurs and assaulted a gay couple was removed from the app. When the couple reported the incident to the NYPD, however, they said police officers insulted them.

Updated 2:05 pm, December 28, 2018
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