Said Jansen, who's going into his junior year at Purdue, "We gave each other a short kiss on the lips. ... I was just surprised the whole thing happened. It just didn't seem like it was real."
Alec Jansen and Ben Martella.
Martella notified Lyft, which refunded their money and said by email that it took "the appropriate and necessary actions." The email was signed only with a first name, George, identified as a "Trust & Safety Specialist."
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That wasn't good enough for Martella, who provided the emails to IndyStar. Martella wanted the driver, an independent contractor, removed from Lyft. The company and its rival Uber both have sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies for drivers and passengers.
Another email from "George" said he was "unable to share specific actions taken" because of "our safety and privacy policies." The identity of the driver is uncertain.
Martella described his communication with the company as "very impersonal. It's all been half-way responses to the answer I was looking for."
After being contacted by IndyStar, a Lyft spokesperson issued a three-sentence statement saying the company has a "strict anti-discrimination policy" and that the driver was "deactivated." That means he is prevented from using the service, the spokesperson said.
"My parents were really upset," Martella said. "They both work for the federal government. My mom wanted to take further action. I'm kind of contemplating that. I talked to my mom about going to Indiana's ACLU. I don't know if that's the right path to take. There's really nothing I need out of the situation. It's my fear for others."
There is no state law in Indiana protecting civil rights based on sexual orientation. But Indianapolis does have an ordinance that includes sexual orientation. It applies to acquisition of real estate, employment, public education and "public accommodations."
"Public accommodations" means "an establishment which caters to or offers its services, facilities or goods to the general public."
"Indianapolis enforces that ordinance aggressively," said Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and an expert on gay rights. "It doesn't matter if sexual orientation isn't protected by state law. The city has a non-discrimination ordinance that it has the power to enforce."
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Sanders said there might be some debate over whether a ride sharing service such as Lyft fits the definition of a "public accommodation."
"The only wrinkle might be because the driver's not employed by Lyft," Sanders added. "The driver is an independent contractor. Could a Lyft driver be capable of violating (the ordinance)? I would argue that Lyft is the 'public accommodation' and the driver's misconduct should be imputed to the company."
In 2016, there were 53 discrimination cases reported to the City of Indianapolis Office of Equal Opportunity — 32 on employment, nine on housing, nine on public accommodation and three on education.
Sexual orientation was the basis, or among the factors of discrimination, in 10 of the 53 cases.
Ride sharing companies have faced the issue of discrimination because of sexual orientation in other cases.
Last December, a transgender woman in California filed a lawsuit against Lyft, alleging that two drivers refused to give her a ride. The first was alleged to have "threatened to injure (the woman) if she did not exit the Prius he was driving."
The lawsuit was dismissed in February. It's uncertain from court records if there was a settlement.
The Chicago Tribune reported on a lawsuit alleging that last September a Lyft driver pulled a gun on two male passengers and used a homophobic slur. A "heated argument" is alleged to have started after the men pointed out that the driver had made a wrong turn. The driver pointed a gun at the men and told them to get out of her car.
A Houston television station reported that a gay couple was kicked out of an Uber ride after they kissed. The couple said the driver pulled off the freeway "not in any safe space place or anything ... right next to the concrete sound barrier."
The Houston couple said their kiss was just a "peck on the lips," same as what Martella and Jansen, the Indianapolis couple, described.
"I just came out a couple months ago," Jansen said. "This is the first time I've had any sort of discrimination."
Said Sanders: "Some of us have a tendency to be rosey-eyed about LGBT acceptance now that we have gay marriage. This is a reminder that there is still bigotry out there."
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