SANTA MONICA—The Santa Monica taxi franchise system has been accused of being racist and discriminatory. Armenian cab drivers, cut out of the franchise system by caps on the allowed number of cabs and drivers, filed suit in Los Angeles. Initial court determinations blocked the continued operation of the franchise plan until Santa Monica could defend its actions; however, new determinations favor Santa Monica and dismiss the charges of Armenian taxi drivers.

The Taxi Driver’s Association, an organization dedicated to defending the civil rights of Armenian cab drivers, was formed in the wake of the Santa Monica franchise system. The Association claims racial discrimination on the grounds that many Armenian cab drivers were displaced and even wholly cut out of the system following the decision of Santa Monica to franchise. Problematically for the Armenian civil rights group, Santa Monica successfully argued in court that the plaintiffs lack legal standing to file suit because the group did not seek franchise participation.

“The City Council in its discussions and award did not consider race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or national origin of any franchise applicant,” stated city attorneys. “The franchisees include many shareholders, managers, and drivers of Armenian descent and the city’s award of franchises; many Armenian-American drivers have applied or are applying to join the franchises.”

Santa Monica’s defense is similar to the Bona Fide Occupational Requirements’ (BFOQ) defense of major retail chains like Abercrombie and Fitch which rely on demographically-driven marketing to establish a customer base.  Although such franchises are technically compliant with the Civil Rights Act, hiring of minority groups tends to be tilted towards the low-end of the economic spectrum.

The majority of Santa Monica taxi companies were Armenian prior to the institution of the current franchise system. Now the system is almost exclusively controlled by those of non-Armenian descent.  Issues of an ethical nature may exist, but for the time being, the court has ruled that Santa Monica conforms to the letter of the law.

The court ruled that plaintiffs presented no “evidence of invidious discrimination.”