A cab driver loads the luggage of a man into the back of his cab at a taxi stand outside Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport on Monday, June 10, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Judge dismisses cabbies’ age-discrimination lawsuit against SFO taxi ban

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed a taxi industry lawsuit challenging a ban on some cabs at San Francisco International Airport Thursday.

The suit alleged the city’s launch of the new policy, which was introduced in December last year, constituted age discrimination. It also alleged the city failed to conduct proper environmental review and violated state and federal equal protection clauses, among other allegations.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Alsup denied nearly all of their claims.

“The overwhelming evidence is that the rule has been promulgated on the basis of taxicab efficiency and propping up those medallion holders most heavily hurt by the industry-wide crisis,” Alsup wrote in his decision.

Mark Gruberg, one of the individuals who is a plaintiff in the suit, among other groups, felt Alsup tossed the case before they had a chance to present a strong case.

“I think it was an overly hasty decision and it didn’t give the plaintiffs a chance to give their arguments with the evidence we could have brought forward,” said Mark Gruberg, who sits on the executive board of the Taxi Workers Alliance.

Tossing the suit is essentially a blessing for The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s plan to prioritize some taxi access at SFO, while limiting access for others, to continue unchallenged.

That plan — which was highly controversial in the local taxi industry — saw SFMTA prioritize pickups at SFO for taxi drivers who paid $250,000 for their permits under a permitting structure that debuted in 2012. Other taxi drivers who obtained their permits, which are called medallions, prior to 2012 obtained them for free or for far less money.

Since those high-paying medallion holders are seeing their medallions increasingly foreclosed by the San Francisco Credit Union, which also sued the SFMTA over those foreclosures last year, the SFMTA has sought to help those ailing cabbies.

But giving some taxi drivers priority over others invited rebuke from those who lost access to SFO. Many in the industry consider it the most lucrative remaining place to pick up passengers.

SFMTA had hoped drivers who had some SFO access revoked would instead circulate back into The City to pick up San Franciscans, but in its own 90-day report analyzing the plan, the agency acknowledged the industry had not done so.

Those drivers — who had the free or lower cost medallions and who were given less priority at SFO — tend to be older. And some of those medallions are held by retirees who no longer drive cabs, and who lease out their medallions to other drivers to sustain them in their older years, which is why those drivers alleged discrimination.

Cris Sweis, owner of Yellow Cab of San Francisco, The City’s largest taxi fleet, also was a plaintiff in the suit. He told the San Francisco Examiner the parties have not yet decided if they’ll appeal the decision.

“It certainly won’t be easy,” he said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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