Disability Rights Lawsuit Against Oakland Taxi Company

For Immediate Release — August 27, 2001

For Further Information, Please Contact:

Sherri L. Rita, Esq.
Linda D. Kilb, Esq.
Disability Rights Education
and Defense Fund
(510) 644-2555

Friendly Cab Company Refuses to Pick Up Passengers with Guide Dogs

Berkeley, California — One of Oakland’s largest taxi services, Friendly Cab Company, Inc., is charged with discriminating against passengers who use guide dogs, according to a lawsuit that will be filed on Wednesday, July 11, 2001, in Alameda County Superior Court. The suit will be filed by the Berkeley-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. (DREDF), on behalf of Oakland residents Claude Everett and Constance Kelley, both of whom are blind and who rely on guide dogs. The lawsuit is brought exclusively under California law, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and guarantees their right to be accompanied by guide dogs.

The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Everett and Ms. Kelley have been passed up by Friendly cabs on several occasions simply because of their guide dogs, limiting their ability to attend work-related meetings and to run basic errands, such as grocery shopping. Prior to this lawsuit, both plaintiffs have complained directly to Friendly, to no avail.

On one occasion Mr. Everett and his guide dog Deb waited almost an hour for a taxi to take them home after a business meeting in downtown Oakland. No cab arrived even after repeated calls to Friendly’s dispatch number, and Mr. Everett was forced to find alternate transportation. “I was extremely inconvenienced. Instead of getting home in twenty minutes, it took me over an hour and a half. I felt belittled, being treated like someone who isn’t as important as another customer, or another human being,” says Mr. Everett.

Ms. Kelley, who relies on cabs when grocery shopping, has had similar experiences with her guide dog Mikasa. Endless waits for taxis leave her feeling helpless and aggravated. “I have carried bags of groceries home on the bus or uphill, including a twenty pound bag of dog food, after having waited for a Friendly cab that never showed.”

DREDF attorney Sherri Rita explains that Friendly’s obligations under California law are clear. “California law explicitly provides that individuals with disabilities who rely on guide dogs are to enjoy the same access to businesses, including taxi services, as anyone else. Friendly cannot just decide that it won’t pick up customers who use guide dogs.” Ms. Rita also notes that the experience of Mr. Everett and Ms. Kelley is typical of the widespread discrimination faced by people who are blind. All across the United States, taxi services refuse to pick up passengers with guide dogs, despite the existence of laws guaranteeing the rights of people with disabilities to travel accompanied by guide dogs or other service animals.

DREDF is a Berkeley-based, national, non-profit law and policy center nationally recognized for its expertise in the interpretation of disability rights laws. Staffed and managed primarily by persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, DREDF is involved in education, policy, legislative and litigation efforts dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of persons with disabilities.