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Gay Couple Forced to Back of Bus, May File Suit

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 08, 2013 8:41 AM

A gay couple from Oregon may take legal action after an airport shuttle driver told them to sit at the back of the bus for holding hands.

Chris Bowers, 38, and Ron McCoy, 47, of Metzger, Oregon, had flown to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend the city's gay pride events in June. But their airport shuttle driver told them that their "inappropriate behavior" was the reason they needed to move to the back of the bus, reports The Huffington Post.

How do current laws reflect on transport drivers' treatment of gay couples like Bowers and McCoy?

Harassed Over Hand-Holding?

McCoy and Bowers had boarded the airport shuttle and initially sat down with "fingers interlocked" in a seat directly across from the driver, reports The Oregonian.

After giving the couple an angry look, the driver informed the couple that "if you're going to do that, you're going to the back of the bus," reports HuffPo.

When interviewed later by Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi, bus driver Mychael Jones explained that he didn't want "women and children" to see the couple's "inappropriate behavior." He declined to clarify what he meant by "inappropriate."

This kind of conduct by a private shuttle company could potentially lead to a lawsuit under New Mexico's public accommodation laws.

Public Accommodation Laws

Public accommodation laws prevent private businesses which offer their goods and services to the public from discriminating against their patrons on the basis of various protected classes (i.e., race, religion, gender, etc.).

Many states, like New Mexico, have public accommodation laws which prohibit discrimination by private businesses based on sexual orientation. This includes "[making] a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer services, facilities, accommodations, or goods" to people because of their sexual orientation.

Civil rights buffs may remember that sitting at the front of the bus, free of discrimination based on a person's identity, has been hard won. The laws of New Mexico and many other states attempt to prevent disparate treatment of couples like McCoy and Bowers based solely on their sexual orientation.

In a statement, an executive with the shuttle operator, Standard Parking, apologized for the couple's "disrespectful treatment" and said the driver has been suspended, The Oregonian reports. The entire shuttle staff will also undergo more sensitivity training.

While training is a good step forward, if McCoy and Bowers pursue legal action against the shuttle company -- a state chapter of the ACLU is likely to take up the case -- the employer could potentially be held liable for the driver's allegedly discriminatory actions.

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