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Driver claims religious discrimination by taxicab commission

A St. Louis taxi driver and shuttle service manager has filed suit against the City of St. Louis, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and an airport security contractor for what seems to be a pattern of deliberate religious discrimination.

Although this is not technically employment discrimination, many of the same issues apply. The cab driver is not an employee of the taxicab commission, but it has significant power over his continued work because they can take his cab out of service or revoke his license. The airport security firm is a contractor, but it apparently has the power to issue Metropolitan Taxicab Commission citations. According to the lawsuit, the security guards also assert the authority to detain and arrest people.

In June 2011, the cabbie says, he was picking up a client from the airport when one of the security guards detained him and his client for 30 minutes and then issued him a ticket for wearing “foreign country religious dress.”

The driver’s religious dress was not described except that he wore a kufi or taqiyah, a short, rounded hat with a flat top commonly worn by Muslims, either alone or with a keffiyah or turban.

In Feb. 2012, the taxicab commission cited him again for wearing religious dress and for having unrepaired body damage to his taxi. His cab was temporarily taken out of service. In April, a security guard again stopped him and warned him that further instances of religious dress at the airport could result in the loss of his taxicab license. In May, his license was suspended.

On Nov. 11, a security guard stopped and detained one of the plaintiff’s shuttle drivers for wearing religious dress. The plaintiff was told that neither he nor his drivers were allowed to wear religious dress at the airport, said he was trespassing, and was threatened to arrest him.

The guards told the driver to go to the Airport Authority to see the rules prohibiting religious dress. However, when he came to do so — in his religious clothing — the guards again threatened to arrest him for trespassing and he was unable to obtain a copy of the rules.

Finally, on Dec. 7, after again appearing at the airport in his religious dress, the security guards harassed him and issued him two taxicab commission citations. He was issued a similar citation by the Airport Authority.

This time, officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department joined in the religious harassment, detained him, and arrested him. One of the police officers snatched his kufi from his head and threw it in a pile with his other personal belongings, a grave insult in Islam.

He is seeking compensation and punitive damages for the alleged civil rights violations. He also filed an earlier complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission, which has the power to determine the legality of the anti-religious dress code.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Barred for Muslim Dress, Cabbie Says,” Joe Harris, Dec. 14, 2012

Our firm advocates for victims of employment discrimination based on religion. For more information, please see our website.