FLUSHING — City investigators wrongfully accused a black man of being an illegal taxi driver after they spotted him dropping off his wife at work, believing she was a white livery cab passenger, a lawsuit charges.
Married couple Dan Keys Jr., 66, and Symone Palermo, 53, are suing the Taxi and Limousine Commission for $3 million, claiming that in an act of racial profiling its agents seized their Lincoln Town Car for eight days and gave each of them summonses — despite their attempts to explain they are husband and wife.
The couple claims that TLC investigators pulled over Keys, a car salesman, because they mistook Palermo, who is biracial, for being white and assumed she was a customer.
“Upon information and belief, when attempting to identify illegally operated taxis, it is the official policy or custom of [the city and the TLC] to instruct its employees to target and single out vehicles operated by minorities with white passengers,” the lawsuit says.
On the morning of May 8, 2013, Keys drove Palermo from their Bayside home to her job at Bob’s Discount Furniture at the Shops at SkyView Center in Flushing. Palermo sat in the backseat of the car because rain had dampened the front passenger side seat the previous evening, the suit says.
After dropping Palermo off, Keys was pulled over by TLC investigators and accused of operating the black Town Car as an illegal cab, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Queens Supreme Court.
The lawsuit claims that investigators — not yet knowing the couple’s relationship — lied to Keys and claimed a “white female” passenger confirmed to them that he was an unlicensed hack.
When Palermo arrived to clear up the misunderstanding, the investigators refused to let them go and instead wrote both of them summonses with false allegations, the lawsuit says. Palermo was ticketed because she is listed as the owner of the Town Car, which was seized.
"We think there was no basis for the TLC to have pulled over my clients in the first instance,” the couple’s lawyer, David Haber, told DNAinfo New York.
“Once they pulled over my clients, [the investigators] had many opportunities to let them go — to realize they pulled over the wrong people. Instead they doubled down on their mistake. I believe that they flat-out lied in their summonses."
A city administrative judge eventually ruled in the couple’s favor and dismissed the summonses. However, the TLC kept the Town Car until Palermo won her case on May 16, 2013.
The TLC declined to discuss the lawsuit’s allegations.
“We're respectfully reserving comment at this time in light of the pending litigation," agency spokesman Allan Fromberg said in a statement.