CHELSEA — A taxi driver must pay a lesbian couple $10,000 for telling them to either stop smooching in the backseat of his cab or kiss their ride goodbye, a city administrative judge ruled last month.
Yellow cab hack Mohammed Dahbi was accused of discriminating against the couple over their sexual orientation by ordering them to "keep that [behavior] for the bedroom or get out of the cab." Dahbi also gave the passengers, Christy Spitzer and Kassie Thornton, some lip, calling them "b-----s," "c---s" and "whores" when they got out of the cab without paying, according to Judge John Spooner's decision.
Spooner, who oversaw Dahbi's trial at the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, also ordered him to attend anti-discrimination training and to pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the city. The city's Commission on Human Rights, which brought the complaint against Dahbi on behalf of Spitzer and Thornton, still must approve Spooner's decision.
"We felt that what happened to us was wrong and he needed to take responsibility for his actions," Spitzer, a TV executive, told DNAinfo New York on Friday.
The incident occurred on Sept. 18, 2011, after Spitzer and her dog climbed into Dahbi's cab at Columbus Circle and drove south to pick up Thornton in Chelsea. When they arrived in Chelsea, Thornton, who had been traveling, put her luggage in the taxi's trunk, and Dahbi began driving them to Thornton's home in Sunset Park.
The women testified at the trial that, at West 15th Street in the Meatpacking District, the cabbie told them to stop kissing and "save that behavior for the bedroom."
Dahbi claimed during the hearing that he couldn't keep his eyes on the road because Spitzer and Thornton were kissing "heavily" and "touching all over each other." Dahbi told the judge that he found their behavior "distracting" and feared it would make him have an accident.
Spitzer and Thornton both testified at the trial that they had just kissed each other with a "peck on the lips."
Spitzer told DNAinfo that she was certain it was only a light smooch because she had just had massive dental work done.
"That’s why I’m so aware of what my behavior was in the taxi," she said.
After Dahbi gave his ultimatum, Thornton told him that he was discriminating against them because they were gay, according to the decision.
"Don't make me out to be an a--hole," Dahbi responded to her, the decision says.
Thornton told the judge that after that comment she didn't feel comfortable, so she got out of the cab, grabbed her luggage and left. Spitzer followed shortly after with her dog, according to the decision.
When the women refused to pay him the fare to that point, he hurled expletives at them and sped away.
Dahbi, a married father of four who has been a cabbie for the past 17 years, said at his trial that he was not discriminating against the women because they were gay.
He also told the judge that for the last few weeks he had been volunteering at a food pantry for a charity called Metropolitan Community Church, which serves many gay homeless individuals.
Dahbi's lawyer, Ali Najmi, told DNAinfo New York his client never once said anything about Spitzer and Thornton's sexuality.
"Mr. Dahbi has a standard of decency that he asks all riders in his cab to follow," Najmi said. "He has asked straight couples to stop engaging in similar behavior. It can be very distracting for a driver if people are getting hot and heavy in the taxi."
However, the judge disagreed.
"The more likely reason for [Dahbi] stopping the taxicab and directing Ms. Spitzer and Ms. Thornton to stop kissing was, not that he objected to all kissing, but that he was uncomfortable with two women sharing a romantic kiss," Spooner said his decision.
In Dhabi's written response to the original complaint that the Human Rights Commission filed against him, he also claimed Spitzer and Thornton referred to him as a "f------ Arab terrorist" and a "radical Muslim a--hole." However, during the trial, he did not make those accusations, according to the decision.
However, Dhabi charged at the trial that Thornton had a bias toward Muslims, citing two tweets from her Twitter account. In a Nov. 7, 2014, tweet, she wrote, "I found ISIS in Los Angeles on the corner of El Segundo ... call DHS!," and posted a photo of a street sign for "Isis Av." In a January tweet, she also tweeted that she had seen the final episode of "Homeland" on her DVR.
Thornton, an actress, stated that she made the tweets at the suggestion of her agent to be funnier on social media.
Judge Spooner didn't find Dhabi's charge credible and called the tweets "innocuous."
Spitzer and Thornton, who are getting married in June, moved to Los Angeles about a year and a half ago. Despite being on the West Coast and the complaint taking four years to go to trial, they said they stuck with the case. They even flew into New York last month to attend the trial on March 13.
"It's a weight that we've carried the entire time," Spitzer said. "We know that people are discriminated against all the time. We just felt we had to let the driver understand that it’s wrong. So he could learn, and he doesn't do it again."
Najmi, Dhabi's lawyer, said they plan to appeal the decision.
"My client never once mentioned anything about their sexuality and never threw them out of the taxi," he said. "In fact, the complaint doesn't even allege that he used any derogatory language about their sexuality and the two women testified that they are the ones who decided to exit the taxi. He wanted to take them to their final destination."