Women-only car services fill a niche, but are they legal?

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 9:50 PM

Drivers will even have to declare a "safe word" before a ride starts. Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver, said he started the company with his wife, Kelly, in response to instances of drivers for ride-hailing services charged with assaulting female passengers.

Women-only car services fill a niche, but are they legal?

Ride-hailing companies catering exclusively to women are cropping up and raising thorny valid questions, namely: Are they discriminatory?

In Massachusetts, Chariot for Women is promising to launch a service featuring female drivers picking up only women and children. Drivers will even have to declare a "safe word" before a ride starts.

Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver, said he started the company with his wife, Kelly, in response to instances of drivers for ride-hailing services charged with assaulting female passengers.

He believes their business map is legal, and he'south prepared to create his case in court, if it comes to that. The couple had planned an April nineteen launch but presently declare they're pushing it back to the summer to create sure their app can handle demand they declare has exceeded expectations.

"We believe that giving women and their loved ones peace of mind isn't only a public policy imperative but serves an fundamental social interest," Pelletz said. "Our service is intended to defend these fundamental liberties."

In NY City, the owners of SheRides are also promising a reboot this summer.

Fernando Mateo, who co-founded the company with his wife, Stella, said the company keep the brakes on its planned launch in two thousand-fourteenth after spending tens of thousands of dollars on valid fees as activists and male drivers threatened to sue. The company settled one challenge, he said.

"We were accused of all sorts of things," Mateo said. "So we went back to the drawing board."

When the company re-launches as SheHails, men will be permitted as drivers and passengers. It'll be left to female drivers to accept male passengers, and for female passengers to accept rides from male drivers.

While taxis driven by and for women are common in Dubai and India, such businesses would likely running afoul of anti-discrimination laws in the U. south., industry and valid experts said.

Major ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft don't give users the option of requesting a driver based on gender. The Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, a trade group, says companies vary on whether women may request a female taxi driver.

"The safety issue is a really large deal," said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Prof at the Harvard Business School. "But you just can't discriminate. You can't turn people away."

On the employment side, the federal Civil Rights Act bans gender-based hiring except when deemed essential.

Courts have interpreted that "bona fide occupational qualification" clause very narrowly, said Elizabeth Brown, a business law Prof at Bentley Univ in Waltham.

Prisons, for example, have been permitted to hire female guards in choose situations, but the airline industry was famously ordered to finish the practice of hiring only women as flight attendants in a one thousand nine hundred seventy-one U. S. Supreme Court ruling.

Whether the one thousand nine hundred sixty-four civil rights law applies is also an open question. The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the law, declined to comment on the legality of women-only ride-hailing services.

But spokeswoman Justine Lisser well-known employers whose workers are independent contractors, as is the case with Mateo and Pelletz'south companies, are generally exterior the agency's purview.

On the consumer side, MA and many other states have anti-gender discrimination laws governing "public accommodations" love transportation services.

But those too, have exceptions. In Massachusetts, for example, women's-only gyms won a special legislative carve-out in 1998.

Michelle Sicard, a Granby resident who recently signed up as a Chariot for Women driver, said she isn't concerned about the legal debate.

"I don't think it'south discriminating against anyone. It'south another way to create women perceive safe," said the 33-year-old postal worker. "I just think people overthink things and everything becomes a battle of the sexes."

But Harry Campbell, an Uber and Lyft driver in LA who runs The Rideshare Guy, a blog and podcast, fears the idea could be a "slippery slope" to other forms of discrimination.

Stronger background checks on drivers and regular monitoring of current ones might be a better approach, he suggested.

"There are likely passengers who'd perceive more comfortable with drivers who are the same race or same ethnicity, so where do we draw the line?" Campbell said.

Female ride-hailing users in the Boston area interviewed by The Associated Press had mixed feelings.

Ashley Barnett, a 24-year-old from Somerville, said it's "well intended" but avoids a larger societal problem — people'south attitudes toward women.

"It'south a solution to a problem that'south way bigger than transportation," she said.

Carolina Quintanilla, a 22-year-old from Boston, said she'd consider using the service at night. But even then, she said, there'south number guarantee of safety.

"There are crazy women out there, too," Quintanilla said. "You never really know nobody'south intentions. You've to believe your instincts."

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