An Uber driver, who was suspended after he allegedly forced a lesbian couple out of his car for kissing, may be allowed to return to his job.
In a video posted on Facebook in June, the two women – Emma Pichl, 24, and her girlfriend Alex Iovine, 26 – could be seen being told by driver Ahmad El Boutari that their kiss was “illegal.”
Following the incident, El Boutari had his licence suspended by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
However, El Boutari could now have his license reinstated, after an administrative law judge Joycelyn McGeachy-Kuls ruled that there was not enough evidence to support the couple’s claims, reports New York Post.
The judge decided that El Boutari kicked the couple out of the car because it went against Uber’s policy of sexual contact between passengers – rather than as the result of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“[The Taxi and Limousine Commission] has provided no evidence that this refusal of continued service was based on the sexual orientation of these passengers,” she wrote in her decision on July 9.
“[El Boutari] credibly testified that he asked the complainants to get out of his car because their conduct violated Uber’s policy prohibiting sexual contact between passengers.”
The judge ruled that the women had given conflicting evidence to Uber, the TLC, and during the hearing.
But, the ultimate decision to reinstate El Boutari’s license lies with the TLC. The commission had reportedly filed for two different hearings regarding El Boutari’s job following the incident – one for the suspension, and another for revoking his license permanently.
PinkNews has contacted TLC for comment.
McGeachy-Kuls continued: “It seems unlikely that [El Boutari] would notice a brief ‘peck kiss’ through his rearview mirror as he was driving in New York City. It seems unlikely that this ‘peck kiss’ alone would cause him to ask the passengers to get out of his car.
“It is also unlikely that [El Boutari] would give up a fare and potentially risk receiving a bad Uber rating for something as mild as a ‘peck kiss.’”
TLC’s spokesperson Allen Fromberg had said the driver’s behaviour – which involved calling his passengers “disrespectful” and repeatedly insisting that they were breaking the law – was “ridiculous,” according to the Associated Press.
Fromberg perviously said said: “It’s 2018 in New York City, and this isn’t the way we live anymore,” before adding that El Boutari had committed “an unacceptable and repugnant act that will not be tolerated.”
Uber had removed El Boutari’s access to its app while it investigates the incident.
Speaking to the New York Post, Pichl recounted what happened, saying: “We got over the Manhattan Bridge into the city.
“We were sitting on opposite sides of the backseat. At one point we leaned over and pecked [a] kiss, very fast,” she said.
Just five minutes after that, Pichl said the driver “pulled the cab over and said: ‘You should not do that… do not do that.'”
When he forced them to step out of the vehicle, the couple started recording.
In the video, El Boutari tells the pair that their actions are “illegal. You don’t do this.”
When they protest, telling him that “kissing is not illegal,” he insists they’re wrong, saying: “Yes, it is illegal. You don’t do this in the car.
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“You aren’t allowed to do this.”
After pressing him on the issue, he told them that “it’s disrespectful” before seeming to attempt to take the phone they’re using to record the argument.
The couple then complained to Uber. The company’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi condemned El Boutari’s actions, saying: “I think they don’t belong driving, period.”
“This is an open society and Uber is a platform that is available to anybody regardless of your background, your orientation, and that is sacred to us,” he continued.
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance and we will do everything we can for that not to repeat.”
It is the latest in a series of incidents in which Lyft and Uber drivers have ejected same-sex couples for showing affection, including a gay couple who were left on the side of the road in Texas at 4am earlier this year.
In May, a Lyft driver in Indiana kicked a gay couple out of his car for sharing a brief kiss.
And last year, Lyft banned a driver after RuPaul’s Drag Race star Jay Rivera claimed they were kicked out of a car for being gay.
Watch the video here: