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Yellow Cab takes a hit in arbitrator's decision on racism case

In the summer of 2010, 21 past and present Yellow Cab drivers -- all African immigrants -- filed a lawsuit in federal court, charging that the taxi company had favored American drivers and billed plaintiffs for questionable fees. The lawsuit was dismissed at the request of the filers after Yellow Cab agreed to shoulder most of the costs of legally arbitrating the drivers' concerns. But given the results of that arbitration, Yellow Cab might be thinking twice about that move.

In "Mean Streets," his December 2010 Westword cover story, Joel Warner detailed the abuse the drivers had been subjected to. According to the initial suit, three supervisors repeatedly subjected the drivers to verbal attacks, calling them "nigger," "African monkey," "dumb African," "crazy Somali" and "animal."

In his final decision on the case issued February 21, arbitrator Frederick Alvarez, a former Denver District Court judge, said that Yellow Cab's managers intended to identify the drivers "as inferior...from an inferior country located in an inferior continent," the Denver Post reported yesterday. "They used these comments to stifle [the drivers'] demands for concessions and allegations of discrimination."

According to the Post, Diane King, the attorney who pursued the case, was awarded $1.1 million; each driver was awarded $12,000 -- and Ahmed Odawaay got $15,000.

Odawaay, who moved here from Mogadishu in 1997, drove a cab from 2002 until 2009, and then started helping other immigrants adjust to life in this country. Of all the abuse he experienced at Yellow Cab, one incident in particular stood out, he told Warner:

It was September 2007, and he'd promised his five-year-old son that, at the end of the week, he'd take him to a Nuggets game and buy him a pair of $90 Air Jordans. Odawaay worked extra hours that week, and by Friday, he'd made $964, according to his receipts. But when he went to Yellow Cab's office, he was presented with a bill for $887.62 that included such charges as a $486 "accelerated recurring note." When he asked for an explanation, he was told to leave or he'd be fired. So he drove home with just $76 for the week and then sat in his cab outside his home, waiting for his son to go to bed because he couldn't bear to face him.

"It was my worst moment," says Odawaay.

Read the original lawsuit here.

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