A cabdriver wasn’t happy when passenger Mark Seaman kissed his partner on the top of the head as they departed from Philadelphia International Airport on a late December night in 2009.
“You cannot do that in here,” the driver said, according to Seaman, before pulling over at the next taxi stand and telling the couple to get out.
They did. The driver, Seaman recalled, then peeled away with the passenger door still open.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Gee, what a nice welcome home to Philadelphia,'” he said.
Now, eight years later, PHL Taxi has been ordered to pay Seaman $500. The ruling from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations also sets a standard: that taxi dispatch companies operating in the city are responsible for any discriminatory conduct by their drivers.
The ruling states that dispatch companies like PHL Taxi must educate drivers on the city’s fair practices ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation.
The Human Relations Commission investigates complaints of discrimination and can temporarily shut down businesses that repeatedly violate the ordinance.
Why the case took so long to resolve — both sides received a letter this week with the commission’s decision — is unclear. Rue Landau, the commission’s executive director, said a number of factors led to delays but declined to go into details. She said cases typically conclude within six months to two years.
“I am disappointed and perplexed about why it took eight years,” said Seaman, 34, who has moved to Washington, D.C. “And I’ve never been offered an explanation.”
He filed a complaint with the commission less than a week after the incident, saying he had been discriminated against for his sexual orientation.
PHL Taxi argued to the commission that it only dispatches drivers and can’t control or regulate their actions.
“We reject that contention,” the commission said in its ruling.
The driver is still a certified cab driver — though not with PHL Taxi — and hasn’t been involved in any similar incidents, according to the Philadelphia Parking Authority. PHL Taxi did not return a request for comment Thursday.
The ruling comes as the LGBT community fights for equal treatment by businesses. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple because gay marriage conflicted with his religious beliefs. The case could have implications on how local and state governments enforce antidiscrimination laws.
Seaman said he is thankful that taxi companies can be held accountable for the actions of drivers they dispatch. Ronda B. Goldfein, who represented Seaman and serves as executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, celebrated the ruling.
“There’s a significant win here for people who are taking cabs in Philadelphia,” said Goldfein, who knew Seaman from his previous work at the nonprofit Philadelphia FIGHT. “We now have a greater source of remedies.”