UPDATED: BOLI Finds “Substantial Evidence” of Anti-Gay Discrimination in Broadway Cab Driver Investigation

Shanako Devoll and Kate Neal (Photo by Sarah Curtis-Schaeffer)
Shanako Devoll and Kate Neal (Photo by Sarah Curtis-Schaeffer)

 

By PQ Staff

Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries investigators found “substantial evidence” that taxi driver Ahmed Egal discriminated against a local lesbian couple on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In documents obtained by PQ Monthly, BOLI’s Civil Rights Division found “substantial evidence of an unlawful practice” by former Broadway Cab driver Ahmed Egal on the counts of “denial of access to public accommodation” and “issuing notice that discrimination will be made in place of public accommodation” on the basis of sexual orientation when he kicked local couple Kate Neal and Shanako Devoll out of his cab onto I-84 last July. The investigation also found  that “Egal did in fact utter words to the effect of ‘You can’t be gay in my cab'” to the couple during their ride.

In perhaps the strongest strike against critics who assert that the couple were subject to such treatment by Egal due to beligerent behavior, BOLI Senior Investigator Jeremy Wolff makes it explicit in his finding that it was the same-sex affection shown between Neal and Devoll, and not any other cause, that led to Egal to kick the couple out onto the Interstate:

“This investigator infers… that Egal was motivated by Complainant and Complainant’s show of same-sex affection to pull to the side of the road, and further infers that Egal stated words to Complainant and her party that caused them to complain to Broadway Cab, caused Complainant to desire to leave Egal’s cab, and caused Complainant and her party to direct Egal to end the trip in a safe location as soon as practicably possible after the first stop on Interstate 84. Thus there is substantial evidence to conclude that Egal desired to, and undertook actions to put into effect, a discontinuation of taxi service, and that he was motivated by [the couple’s] sexual orientation.”

The investigators also found that there was “no substantial evidence” of unlawful practice on the part of Broadway Cab in this situation; this was primarily due to Egal’s status as an independent contractor for the company. Egal had his cab driver’s license suspended last August after the City of Portland found that his actions against Neall and Devoll “had constitute[d] a threat to public safety and convenience.”

Here are the full findings, including thorough descriptions of the contents of the in-cab recordings and analysis of the laws that BOLI asserts Egal violated (right-click to download):

SED Notice – Devoll

SED Notice – Neal

PQ Monthly will continue to follow this story and post updates as they become available.

UPDATED 4 MARCH 2014 10:21 AM

BOLI released a statement this morning confirming the findings of the documents obtained by PQ Monthly and further explaining the Oregon Equality Act in context:

Portland, OR—A Portland taxi cab driver violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple when the driver discontinued the ride, leaving the passengers on the shoulder of I-84, a Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) investigation has found.

The substantial evidence determination finds that the driver Ahmed Egal operated the taxi cab as an unincorporated sole proprietorship when he stopped service based on the couple’s sexual orientation.

The couple filed the complaint under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, a law that protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender Oregonians in employment, housing and public places.

Under Oregon law, Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion.

With the substantial evidence determination, the complaint now moves to BOLI’s Administrative Prosecution Unit, responsible for processing the contested civil rights division cases. The bureau will now decide whether to bring formal charges pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and BOLI contested case hearing rules. Parties have been unable to reach a settlement at this stage of the process.

Oregon businesses seeking guidance on the Equality Act or other civil rights laws can contact BOLI’s technical assistance for employers program at (971) 673-0824.

Public accommodations complaints under the equality act are rare. In every year since the law’s passage, public accommodations complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity have represented less than one percent of all discrimination complaints received by the agency.

BOLI protects all Oregonians from unlawful discrimination, investigating allegations of civil rights violations in workplaces, career schools, housing and public accommodations.

Copies of the complaints are available upon request. For more information about BOLI’s efforts to protect workplaces and support Oregon employers, visit http://www.oregon.gov/BOLI.