No discrimination in Checker Taxi case

Photo by Peter Kasprzyk on Unsplash

Taxicab affiliations must abide by the City of Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance, but not every glitch in service automatically warrants a discrimination claim.

That was the crux of a ruling by the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) recently in a case involving Checker Taxi Association (Checker).

Leroy Jamison, a 69-year-old African-American who suffers from limited mobility and schizophrenia, filed a complaint with the CCHR last October alleging that Checker had violated Chapter 2-160 of the Municipal Code, also known as the Human Rights Ordinance, by denying him use of a public accommodation when it twice failed to successfully pick him up on the same day.

With the assistance of counsel from Burke Burns & Pinelli, Ltd., however, Checker Taxi was able to successfully dismiss the complaint by showing that the glitch in service was purely circumstantial and had nothing to do with Jamison’s age, race or disability.

“The investigation did not uncover any evidence that [Checker] denied Complainant taxi service based on his race and age, or that it failed to accommodate his disabilities,” the CCHR found.

Specifically, Jamison alleged that in the early evening of October 10, 2017, he called Checker and requested a taxi to pick him up at his home on the South Side. Jamison was told by the Checker dispatcher that a taxi would be there soon. A Yellow taxicab arrived shortly thereafter, but allegedly waited on the wrong side of the street before leaving a few minutes later.

Jamison immediately called Checker back, and a second taxicab was dispatched promptly. This time a Checker taxi arrived, and it transported Jamison to his destination, a local grocery store, without incident.

About a half hour later, Jamison called Checker from the grocery store to arrange a taxi home. This time, however, there were no taxis immediately available. Jamison was then put on hold. While his call was holding, Checker twice tried to phone Jamison to see if he still needed a taxi. Jamison, however, did not pick up the call. Unfortunately, the grocery store was closing and Jamison said he wound up taking a ride from a store employee.

In his complaint, Jamison argued that Checker had violated Chapter 2-160-070 of the Municipal Code, dealing with Public Accommodations. That section of the Code states that “[n]o person that owns, leases, rents, operates, manages or in any manner controls a public accommodation shall withhold, deny, curtail, limit or discriminate concerning the full use of such public accommodation by any individual because of the individual’s race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military discharge status, or source of income.” Jamison’s Complaint stated that Checker had “frequently” refused to provide services to him over the past seven or eight months because of his race, disabilities and age.

In response, Checker argued that not only could it not be held liable under the Human Rights Ordinance for the conduct of taxi drivers who are independent contractors or drive for other taxi affiliations (such as Yellow Cab), but also that it had, in fact, twice called Jamison on the phone in both instances in an effort to assist him. Checker provided phone records to CCHR showing that it had done so, as well as business records showing it had successfully dispatched taxis to Jamison’s home address at least 74 times over the previous five months.

“[Checker] submitted documentary evidence that [Jamison] utilized [Checker’s] service 76 times over an approximately five-month period, without incident,” the CCHR Investigation Summary reported. “The two instances where a taxi did not arrive to pick Complainant up do not amount to a denial of service.”

The case, Leroy Jamison v. Checker Taxi Association, 17-P-35, was filed in the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations on October 12, 2017. The case was dismissed on January 5, 2018.

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