Calling it “preposterous” that Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws would not apply to a government entity, a federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by Kevin Brooks against the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) and Transit Connection Inc. (TCI) can proceed in federal court.
Brooks alleges that on July 11, 2018, a VTA bus driven by James Taylor passed him by at an Edgartown stop. When he confronted Taylor about why he didn’t stop, Taylor first said the bus was full. And in an exchange caught on tape, Brooks pressed Taylor, who said, “Well, it’s because you’re black.”
The Times received footage of the July 11 incident through a public records request. Taylor was fired by TCI two days later.
Brooks, a barber who commutes to the Island from New Bedford, is seeking “compensatory, consequential, treble, and punitive damages, as well as costs and attorneys’ fees,” according to court records.
Both the VTA and TCI sought to have the case dismissed by summary judgment, but in a ruling filed Jan. 2, U.S. District Court Judge William Young denied the parts of the motion that the VTA and TCI could not be sued for discrimination because they are government entities. Young did dismiss the claim by Brooks that he suffered emotional distress, because the evidence he supplied provided “insufficient facts as a matter of law to demonstrate objective evidence of harm for a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
While the VTA tried to argue that the two antidiscrimination laws cited — the Public Accommodation Law and Equal Rights Act — do not apply to government entities, Young disagreed.
“It is preposterous to construe this ‘civil right’ as enforceable against everyone but the government itself,” Young wrote. “Civil rights are, in large part, a bulwark against government power.”
TCI attempted to have several claims dismissed, stating the reason Brooks wasn’t picked up was because the bus was full. However, the judge denied that request, saying that bus capacity remains a “disputed fact” in the case.
In its motion, VTA also claimed that Taylor worked for TCI and not the VTA, but the judge denied that claim, writing that it is “genuinely disputed whether Taylor was employed by the VTA.”
The VTA operates the bus service, and contracts with TCI to employ bus drivers.
The VTA Advisory Board discussed the case in executive session at its meeting in November.