Lawsuit Alleges RTD’s Hiring Practices Are Discriminatory Against African Americans

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The RTD bus lane on 15th Street downtown. Nov. 5, 2019.

The Regional Transportation District is facing a lawsuit over hiring practices that allegedly discriminate against African American applicants.

Shanita Taylor, an African American woman who lives in the Denver area, sued RTD and one of its contractors in federal court this week over its policy of automatically rejecting the employment applications of potential bus drivers who’ve had points added to their licenses.

Taylor’s lawsuit says she obtained her commercial driver’s license and applied to work for RTD and First Transit as a bus driver in 2017 and 2018, but had her applications denied only because her driving record had more than 10 points on it in the preceding seven years.

None of those points were for moving violations and none indicate she’d be unable to operate an RTD bus safely, Taylor’s lawyers said. Rather, they were for driving an unsafe vehicle, driving with defective headlights, and failing to provide proof of insurance. 

“Ms. Taylor believes that were she white, she would not have received many of the points on her driving record,” Taylor’s lawyers wrote in a complaint filed this week. “For example, Ms. Taylor was assessed points for not having proof of insurance when two police cars pulled her over for no clear reason after having followed her out of a convenience store parking lot.”

Research shows that police are indeed more likely to pull over black drivers. One study of 20 million traffic stops in North Carolina found that black drivers were twice as likely to be pulled over than white drivers and twice as likely to be searched.

The lawsuit argues RTD’s policy violates the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and should be changed to take the type and source of violations into account. 

In a statement, RTD spokeswoman Laurie Huff said the agency has not yet been served with the lawsuit and therefore can’t comment on the legal issues at play.

“RTD’s foremost concern is safety,” she continued. “Hiring standards for operators reinforce that safety culture. RTD operators have a tremendous responsibility to ensure the safety of their passengers and the traveling public.”

In a recent bus driver job posting, the agency described its standard this way:

“Not more than five (5) points assessed against motor vehicle record (MVR) in the past two (2) years and not more than ten (10) points on a seven year record as well as possessing a continually valid driver's license for the past two (2) years. Also no DUI, DWI, or reckless driving in the past 5 years.”

The agency is currently short roughly 80 bus drivers and 60 light rail operators, leading the agency to force its drivers to work overtime and propose significant cuts to give those drivers a break. First Transit did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The ATU-1001, which represents bus drivers, declined to comment, saying they have no role in the hiring process.

Taylor’s lawyers, of the Denver-based non-profit firm Towards Justice, also declined to comment. They are seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action covering any black or Latino would-be bus drivers with more than 10 points on their records.

They’ve asked for the judge to award Taylor, and other members of the class, an unspecified amount of damages.