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.