NJ sues taxi company that denied deaf woman a ride
A Passaic County taxi company allegedly refused to schedule a cab for a deaf woman who was waiting in heavy snow after her bus was delayed on a cold January day, the state Attorney General said Tuesday.
The state filed a complaint in Passaic County Superior Court against Clifton Taxi and Limousine Inc., alleging that the company unlawfully denied service to a deaf woman who tried to hire a cab using a telecommunications relay service.
The state's lawsuit states that on Jan. 21, 2014, Nicole Perkins of Jamaica, New York, called Clifton Taxi three times through a relay service for deaf callers. She had been waiting for a bus in Clifton that was delayed during heavy snow in Passaic County, which caused a state of emergency to be declared in New Jersey, authorities say.
According to the complaint, the relay operator called the taxi company twice, stating that she was assisting a deaf person and each time, an employee at the company answered the phone then hung up without responding.
"When the relay operator called for a third time, someone at Clifton Taxi again picked up the call and responded, 'Please stop calling,' then hung up again," the Attorney General's Office said. At that point, Perkins stopped trying.
Relay services allow hearing impaired individuals to initiate calls by sending a text message from a cell phone to a relay operator who then places the call and verbally relays the texted information in real time to the person on the other end. This is the method the Attorney General says Perkins used to try and hire a taxi.
When investigators from the state Division on Civil Rights looked into the matter, authorities say the taxi company's reasons were often contradictory. At one point, the company allegedly claimed that they did not send cabs out in the snow, as well as saying that there were no cabs available to pick up Perkins because all of them were in use.
As a result, the Division on Civil Rights concluded that Clifton Taxi's reasons “were a pretext for denying service to Perkins because she is deaf, or because she called using a relay service.”
The complaint also alleged that Clifton Taxi "appears not to have trained its staff with regard to communications from deaf or hearing-impaired customers, and does not appear to have made its staff aware that deaf or hearing-impaired customers might call using a telecommunications relay service."
The complaint filed by the Division on Civil Rights is seeking an injunction that would prohibit Clifton Taxi from refusing to communicate with deaf individuals via relay service and from refusing to provide service to those using a relay provider.
In addition, the Division is asking the court to order Clifton taxi to establish a written policy "addressing the accommodation of disabled customers and disabled potential customers" and to train managers and employees on properly accommodating disabled customers or potential customers.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.