Eric Bridges, a blind man, stood at the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the District of Columbia, attempting to hail a taxi. Beside him stood his service dog, who assists with navigating the streets of the District and participating in regular daily activities.
Two-hundred fifty feet away stood Russ Ptaceck, a report with WUSA 9, who was working with Bridges to investigate discrimination in the DC taxicab system. Ptaceck did not have a service dog.
Grand Cab 73 veered toward Bridges, but, unsurprisingly to D.C. advocates for people with visual disabilities, drove past Bridges and picked up Ptaceck instead.
The occurrence is commonplace in DC. A 2010 study from Equal Rights Center found a 50 percent rate of refusal of service for blind individuals with service dogs in DC.
On March 16, the American Council of the Blind and Bridges sued four D.C. taxi companies, accusing them of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act by discriminating against blind customers.
“The incidents alleged in the complaint are just a few examples of the systemic discrimination that blind individuals with service animals face on a daily basis,” Matthew Handley, director of litigation at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, said in a news release. “Like anyone else, blind persons depend on taxis and public transportation to get to work, meetings, and other daily activities.”
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, on the basis that the taxicab companies’ conduct is not merely the result of negligence in complying with these laws, but rather the product of “ill will, recklessness, wantoness, oppressiveness, and willful disregard of Plaintiff’s rights.”
The American Council for the Blind is being represented in the lawsuit by attorneys from the Washington Lawyers for the Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affair and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. It was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division.
“People come to DC from all over the country to attend conferences, advocate on the Hill, and as tourists,” ACB Executive Director Melanie Brunso said in the news release. “DC should be the gold standard for equal treatment and opportunity, including access to transportation services for the blind.”
The four taxicab companies named in the lawsuit are the Grand Cab Company, Elite Cab Association, Yellow Cab Company of DC and Pleasant Taxi Club, who collectively operate about 1,200 of the 6,500 cabs operating in the District.