Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl are like any other couple who live together in Manhattan. They go out to bars and events in the Big Apple, and they sometimes end up taking an Uber ride while they’re out and about.
The couple allege that when they were headed back to Manhattan from Brooklyn on Saturday in an Uber, they quickly “peck-kissed” in the back of the car, and were soon after asked to exit the vehicle. These two women were allegedly kicked out of the cab for kissing, which, frankly, seems discriminatory.
But what exactly are your rights when you’re in an Uber, especially when it comes to public displays of affection?
Is Kissing Illegal in an Uber?
So is it “illegal” to kiss in an Uber, as the Uber driver in question claimed on camera? John R. O’Brien, an attorney in Chicago, told Inverse via email the driver, identified as Ahmad El Boutari, had “no right to do so, unless there was some separate agreement (or there is something on Uber’s website) about permitted or prohibited conduct by passengers.”
“Quite simply, the passengers and Uber had an agreement that the driver (who had entered into a separate agreement with Uber) would pick them up and drive them to their destination,” he said. “If the passengers were forced to leave the car before reaching their destination…then the driver breached the passengers’ and their own agreements with Uber.”
As it turns out, there are guidelines regarding touching, kissing, and sexual conduct in the Uber Community Guidelines. You know, the list of guidelines to use the service that you’ve probably never actually read through (no judgment, those things can get long).
Under “Ensuring a respectful, safe environment for all drivers and riders,” there is, in fact, a section on physical contact with the driver or fellow riders of an Uber cab. It says riders shouldn’t “touch or flirt” with other people in the car, and that there’s “no sexual conduct with drivers or fellow riders.” In those same community guidelines, Uber says it has a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Why This Is a Problem
Boutari had his livery license suspended on Tuesday, according to TIME. Regardless of the legalities involved, or the company’s community guidelines, a New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesman called Boutari’s behavior “ridiculous.”
Because that’s what this situation is — ridiculous. Iovine claimed that she and her girlfriend were sitting on completely opposite sides of the back seat of the Uber cab, and not even touching, aside from their quick “peck.”
Think about it: Would the same behavior be considered inappropriate sexual conduct if a straight couple did the same thing? When was the last time you heard about an Uber driver kicking out a straight couple for sharing a quick kiss in the backseat? I’d be willing to bet it’s been awhile.
For what it’s worth, Boutari told The Daily News the couple played loud music on their phones, and that one put her feet up on the seat, and that’s why they got kicked out.
However, in video of the altercation, one of the women is heard telling Boutari that “Kissing is not illegal.” El Boutari responds, “Yeah, it is illegal. You don’t do that here in the car.” No mention of loud music or disrespectful foot placement, which seems to undermine his claim.
In fact, Boutari admitted in another New York Daily News report that he would have “less tolerance” for a same-sex couple than a straight couple doing the same thing in his car.
When asked about this incident, an Uber spokesperson told Inverse:
Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination, and we have been in touch with the rider regarding her experience. We are investigating and we have removed the driver’s access to the app.
In any case, whether or not certain behavior goes against company policy is not the same thing as whether it’s legal. Uber is right to investigate the incident. The bottom line is, people have a right not to be discriminated against by someone they’re seeking a cab drive or ride share from — period.