Two women said their New York Uber driver abruptly kicked them out of his car after they kissed. In video of the incident, the driver can be seen bluntly telling the young couple to get out of his car for what he called “disrespectful” behavior.
The driver’s taxi license and his access to the Uber app are temporarily suspended as Uber and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission separately investigate the incident. A taxi license is required to drive for Uber in the state.
Both the rider and driver reported the incident to Uber. Reached for comment Wednesday, the company told USA TODAY it finds the report “very concerning."
“Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination, and we have been in touch with the rider regarding her experience,” the company said in a statement.
Alex Iovine, 26, told the New York Daily News that she and her girlfriend, Emma Pichl, 24, have been dating for two years. The two were sitting on either side of the backseat, with the middle seat open, when they leaned in a for a kiss mid-conversation, according to Iovine. She said their kiss was not inappropriate.
“We leaned in for a peck, and that’s what it was, a legit peck," Iovine said.
The driver, Ahmed Elbotari, 35, said the women were also playing loud videos on their phones and that one put her feet on his seat.
“It’s my own car. I didn’t feel comfortable with them,” Elbotari said.
But Iovine rejects that accusation.
"We would never disrespect someone else's car in such manner, and we always handle ourselves appropriately in public," Iovine said.
As Elbotari drove the couple from a party in Brooklyn to another in Manhattan on Saturday, he allegedly pulled over the car after crossing Manhattan Bridge and got out, demanding the women do the same. Iovine captured the exchange on video and has since been refunded for the $22 trip.
Part of Uber’s official Community Guidelines reads: “...don’t touch or flirt with other people in the car. As a reminder, Uber has a no sex rule. That’s no sexual conduct between drivers and riders, no matter what.”
But the company also has a non-discrimination policy that requires drivers and riders be treated equally regardless of “race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity, age, etc.”
Everyday discrimination toward LGBTQ Americans is rampant, a recent study shows. Several states have laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but there is no federal law that protects LGBTQ people.
“It was a really terrible experience — and ironically occurred on a bright sunny day during Pride Month in New York City,” Iovine said.
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