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Is a new NYC-based car service solely for women discriminatory?

Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, large data networks, widespread wireless coverage and phone apps, traveling has become far easier than in decades past. With just a few swipes of a finger, a person can rebook their plane ticket for a cancelled flight, purchase a train ticket, or even arrange a ride from a ride sharing company or livery cab service.

In fact, the demand for car service generated largely by smartphone use has become so great that more entrepreneurs are now forming new outfits in an effort to capitalize on an untapped clientele.

To illustrate, consider a new car service called SheTaxis slated to start serving clients in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County next week. Here, the company has created a downloadable app that is essentially for women only, as it allows its all female clientele to arrange rides with only female drivers. (In the event a woman is not present in the party asking for a ride, the phone app redirects the user to another car service.)

“Perfect idea. You feel safer and more comfortable with a woman,” remarked one potential customer of SheTaxis to The New York Times.

While this may indeed seem like a viable and reasonable business idea on its surface, many legal experts have actually expressed concern that it could actually run afoul of both state and federal discrimination laws.

In particular, they have pointed out that New York State human rights laws dictate that companies with more than three employees cannot treat a job applicant or an employee in an unfavorable manner on the basis of gender, while Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dictates essentially the same prohibition for companies with 15 or more employees.

Furthermore, they argue that state law also strictly prohibits places of public accommodation — including livery cabs — from refusing customer service on the basis of gender.

“I think it’s got problems. Generally, the law doesn’t recognize the customer preference as a justification for discrimination,” said one NYU professor. “Employers cannot assume all males will be violent sex offenders.”

It will be very interesting to what transpires in the coming weeks regarding this all-female ride service. For their part, SheTaxis has indicated that no prospective male rider would be left stranded (another car service will be contacted) and indicated that it will handle legal issues as they arise.

What are your thoughts on this story? Do you find the idea of an all-female ride service company to be discriminatory?

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “New car service app for women raises legal questions, experts say,” Jacob Gershman, Sept. 8, 2014

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