New York Cab Driver Ordered To Pay Lesbian Couple Christy Spitzer And Kassie Thornton $10,000 For Telling Them To Stop Kissing
And today in anti-discrimination victories, we have this: A New York cab driver has been ordered to pay a lesbian couple $10,000 for discriminating against them back in 2011. According to DNAinfo, the ruling came in response to a complaint alleging that driver Mohammed Dahbi told Christy Spitzer and Kassie Thornton to stop kissing, kicked them out of his taxi, and called them “c---s,” “b-----s,” and “whores” when they subsequently refused to pay the fare. It's not a pleasant story — but at least it's one in which justice has been served. Here's how it went down:
On September 18, 2011, Dahbi picked up Spitzer, who also had her dog with her in a carrying case, at Columbus Circle, after which they continued on to Chelsea to pick up Thornton. Thornton had been traveling and therefore had luggage with her, which she put in the trunk. The cab then began the drive to Sunset Park, where Thornton lived at the time.
According to Dahbi, the couple began kissing “heavily” and “touching all over each other”; Spitzer and Thornton, however, maintain that they merely exchanged a “peck on the lips.” Spitzer cited the fact that she had just had oral surgery done as the reason why she was so certain they hadn't done more than exchange a brief kiss: The dental work had resulted in “severe mouth trauma,” which didn't lend itself to any extensive sexual activity. “That's why I'm so aware of what my behavior was in the taxi,” she told DNAinfo.
"Severe mouth trauma?" Ouch.
At that point, the complaint alleged that Dahbi said, "Keep that [behavior] for the bedroom or get out of the cab.” Spitzer and Thornton accordingly grabbed their things (including Thornton's luggage and Spitzer's dog) and exited the cab; they also refused to pay the fare. Dahbi allegedly hurled a variety of obscenities at them and drove off. In his response to the complaint, he claimed that Spitzer and Thornton called him a “f------ Arab terrorist” and a “radical Muslim a--hole,” although according to DNAinfo, he did not bring those accusations up at the trial.
Dahbi's lawyer, Ali Najmi, told the New York Post that Dahbi doesn't hold with sexual activity in his cab from any of his fares; said Najmi, “My client never once mentioned anything about their sexuality and never threw them out of the taxi. In fact, the complaint doesn't even allege that he said anything about their sexuality, and the two women testified that they are the ones who decided to exit the taxi.” The attorney continued, “Mr. Dahbit has a standard of decency that he asks all riders in his cab to follow. He has asked straight couples to stop engaging in similar behavior. It can be very distracting for a driver if people are getting hot and heavy in the taxi.”
Judge John Spooner, however, ruled in favor of Spitzer and Thornton. “The more likely reason for [Dahbi] stopping the taxicab and directing Ms. Spitzer and Ms. Thornton to stop kissing was, not that he objected to all kissing, but that he was uncomfortable with two women sharing a romantic kiss,” he stated in his decision.” Although the decision still must be approved by the Commission on Human Rights, Spooner ordered Dahbi to pay $10,000 to Spitzer and Thornton and $5,000 to the city. The taxi driver will also be required to attend anti-discrimination training.
Spitzer and Thornton have since moved to Los Angeles and are set to tie the knot this summer; they flew back to New York specifically to testify at the trial. Said Thornton to the Post, “Most people would just stop and not consume their lives with this anymore. But for us, it affected our entire relationship. We had just started dating, and we wanted to follow through. If everyone backed out of doing what was right, nothing would change.”
And Thornton has a point. This isn't the only time in recent memory a gay couple has faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation: In October of 2014, a couple in Houston told the Huffington Post that a cab driver refused to drive them home from a gay bar and told them they were going to hell; according to OregonLive, a lesbian couple in Portland were “verbally thrashed… with aggressive homophobic comments” in 2013; and just last week, an Uber driver in Chicago was charged with aggravated assault and battery for kicking a gay couple out of his car.
When these incidents are taken within the larger culture of intolerance still at large in our country — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, laws that would force transgender individuals to use restrooms that don't align with their gender identity, and so on — it's proof that we still have a long, long way to go before we reach equality. But if we keep drawing attention to instances of injustice… well, that will go a long way towards supporting anti-discrimination bills, laws, and more. And that's something worth fighting for.
Images: Wiffle Gif; Giphy