Portland taxi driver takes discrimination lawsuit to federal court

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PORTLAND — A local cab driver suing the city for discrimination is asking a federal judge to rule in his favor without a trial.

Paul McDonough asked U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy for summary judgment on his claim the city violated his equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by refusing to grant him a permit to pick up passengers who have not reserved cabs at the Portland International Jetport.

McDonough, represented by attorney Heidi Hart of Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, claims the city created a discriminatory policy in 2008 by how it issued non-reserved taxicab access permits at the Jetport.

“In particular, the city imposed a moratorium on the issuance of new permits, which resulted in a situation in which virtually all permit holders were black (mostly Somali) immigrants,” the complaint said.

At the time, 50 permits to pick up customers who had not reserved a cab were issued. The number of permits was reduced to 45 in 2013.

McDonough said the discrimination was perpetuated by the city’s refusal to accept new permit applications “and by repeatedly rejecting alternative plans for non-reserved taxicab passenger service that would have ended the racial monopoly and created a race-neutral permitting scheme.”

The city is represented by attorneys Edward R. Benjamin Jr. and Adrianne E. Fouts of Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon.

The city, meanshile, says McDonough lacks standing to make his claims, and also wants Levy to rule without benefit of a trial.

“Mr. McDonough has never held (a non-reserved taxi) permit, has never applied for an NRT permit and has historically not pursued NRT fares,” Fouts said in court papers.

Fouts also disputes claims of discrimination because the 2008 policy does not make references to race or national origin and, if the number of permits drop below the mandated cap, McDonough would be allowed to apply.

“There is no evidence that the city intentionally discriminated against white, American-born taxi drivers either in the 2008 cap or in its subsequent promulgation of the (rules) in 2010 and 2013,” Fouts said.

The city is joined by the Non-Reserved Taxi Group as an intervenor seeking to dismiss McDonough’s claims. The intervenors are represented by attorney Sigmund Schutz of Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP, which also disputes any claim of racial set asides for the permits.

“(McDonough) became interested in a permit much later, i.e., when no more permits were available. Because he is not similarly situated to the current permit holders, in this key respect he has no equal protection claim,” Schutz said in his complaint.

The suit was initially heard in Cumberland County Superior Court, but was moved to federal court because of the nature of McDonogh’s claims.

The city has spent almost $45,000 defending the case so far, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Monday.

In the last two years, the city has unsuccessfully defended its ban on loitering in median strips in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, and seen a unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court essentially striking down the creation of a buffer zone to limit protests outside the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England offices at 443 Congress St.

The city paid $175,000 to plaintiffs in the median strip case, and about $56,000 to plaintiffs who had sued the city over the buffer zone ordinance that was rescinded after the Supreme Court decision.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.
  • tiresias75

    If this is costing the City so much $$, why not just open up the process and let Mr. McDonough apply like anyone else? I take cabs home from the Jetport regularly, and Invariably the driver complains bitterly about having to transport my Seeing Eye dog (“No dog, no dog” – yes, dog, or I’ll see you in front of the Human Rights Commission), speaks next to no English, and does not no how to get me to my destination (fortunately I do know, and tolerate no deviation from the direct route). Why should there be so few Jetport taxi licenses, and why isn’t there reasonable opportunity for different drivers to park out there?

  • graymantoo

    The 49 taxi licenses at the airport provide the exclusive right to the most profitable routes in the city. 48 of these licenses have been awarded by the City of Portland only to Somalis. When Mr. McDonough first challenged the city on its blatant, in your face discrimination, it’s arrogant and contemptuous response was that this was the result of “mere happenstance”.
    Now that they’ve hired an outside law firm, they have abandoned that feeble and pathetic position to try a more technical legal fiction- a lack of standing.
    The real issue here is that because one individual had the guts to stand up to them, the city government has been exposed. Now, it is blowing tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money to try to save face ($45,000?, right!! Try between $150-200K but they just don’t dare to admit it out of concern for taxpayer outrage).
    The new mayor, Ethan Strimling, has a choice. He can either do the right thing and settle this case with Mr. McDonough or he can launch his new administration on the putrid waters of corruption and discrimination that was navigated by his predecessor and continue to waste taxpayers hard earned money.

    • Portland Native

      This story goes back in time to 2008. The City of Portland decided to issue
      50 Portland Jet Port taxi permits only to Somali and Iranian cab drivers
      without an open and transparent bidding process. I thought, you must be kidding
      me when I first learned about this story!

      Now, nearly eight years later, the folks in Portland, Maine are to believe
      this was a coincidence. Just a random set of circumstances brought 50 non-white
      immigrant applicants to the front of the line at either Portland City Hall, the
      Portland Jet Port or where ever such permits are passed out. Can anyone reading
      this imagine the public uproar you would hear today if every one of those
      prized and limited permits had been secretly assigned to fifty non-colored American’s?
      The race card would be played 24/7!

      This story is a case of blatant reverse discrimination and anyone with a
      smidgen of common sense would clearly see this for what it is if they took the
      time to open their eyes and read about the grave injustice to a native son. Now
      the high priced lawyers representing the City of Portland and the group of
      immigrant cabbies against the native son are claiming he lacks legal standing.
      A very good lawyer once told me when the facts were not in your favor, argue
      the law and forget about the facts.

      I hope the residents of the City of Portland let their City Manager, City Council
      and Mayor know just how much this case stinks of racial discrimination. I suppose
      Mr. Paul McDonough may lack some standing as an immigrant after all! Let’s face
      it. He is a Caucasian and native born son of Portland, Maine. I wonder if his
      case would be helped, even a little, by the fact that his late mother was born
      in Italy!!!!

  • oldsodman

    As a person who both worked and lived in Portland for most of my life; I really resent the “white guilt” philosophy exhibited by the City of Portland leaders. It defies credulity, that 48 of 49 cab-drivers assigned to the Jetport are Somalis, while a white, native- born cab-driver is denied that ability. Sounds like blatent discrimination to me. And people wonder why American voters are so angry. The City should correct this debacle as soon as possible and stop throwing money at the lawyers.

  • Taxman

    The City of Portland and the Maine Human Rights Commission are guilty of outright discrimination. It apparently is not discrimination if this behavior applies to a Caucasian. Previous to this case being before the Cumberland County Superior Court,the Maine Human Rights Commission turned a blind eye to this issue and declined to make it a decision.

    It is not happenstance for every airport permit be issued to a Somalian exclusively every single year for at least the past 8 years. This defies credulity.

    The Non-Reserved Taxi Group is a front for Catholic Charities of Maine which makes a tremendous amount of money in relocating refuges to Portland and Maine. It is apparent that there is a financial partnership between the City of Portland and Catholic Charities of Maine that promotes this reverse discrimination. This is why the City is not willing to recognize it’s obvious discrimination.

    The City of Portland is not being factual about the TAXPAYERS MONEY they have wastefully spent to defend this pattern of reverse discrimination. As a property tax payer in Portland, I am deeply disturbed with both the policy to apply for an airport permit to be so flawed for so long and for the city government spend good money after bad to deny equal protection under the law to Mr. McDonough