A lesbian Manhattan couple has filed a complaint with the NYC Human Rights Commission, claiming their Uber driver forced them out of his car after for exchanging a kiss on Saturday. Alex Iovine says their driver reacted irrationally to their backseat display of affection, telling NBC NY, "We peck kissed, like I reached across and pecked kissed her. That’s how fast it was that’s why I say ‘pecked.’”
Iovine and Emma Pichl were taking the Uber from Pig Beach Gowanus to the East Village on Saturday when Iovine gave Pichl a kiss. Iovine told the Daily News the driver pulled over after they crossed the Manhattan Bridge and told them to get out of the car. "My girlfriend started laughing," Iovine told the tabloid. "She thought he was joking... He yelled at us for being disrespectful and inappropriate because we pecked on the lips."
Iovine filmed driver Ahmed Elbotari telling them, "It's illegal," "It's disrespectful," and "You're not allowed to do this," with Iovine and Pichl arguing with him to understand what they did wrong. One of the women says, "It's not illegal to kiss in New York" and threatens him, "We're going to get you fired." Elbotari replies, "I don't give a shit."
In an interview with NBC New York, Iovine admitted that their exchange "turned into anger, which we are not proud of. We were just so overcome with emotions." Pichl said, "I’d say if he feels so uncomfortable with two girls pecking in the backseat then he shouldn’t be an Uber driver in New York City."
Elbotari also spoke to the News, claiming that the couple was simply acting obnoxious, with one of them forcing the other to smell her armpit, playing music loudly on their phones, putting feet on the seat. The driver said "he asked them to stop kissing and lower the volume on their phones" and insisted "he would do the same for a straight couple, but acknowledged he has less tolerance for a same-sex couple," the News reports.
"It’s my own car. I didn’t feel comfortable with them," he said.
Uber's Community Guidelines state, in the "Give riders and drivers some personal space" section, "We all value our personal space and privacy. It’s OK to chat with other people in the car. But please don’t comment on someone’s appearance or ask whether they are single. As a passenger, if you need to make a phone call, keep your voice down to avoid disturbing your driver or other riders. And don’t touch or flirt with other people in the car. As a reminder, Uber has a no sex rule. That’s no sexual conduct between drivers and riders, no matter what."
The guidelines also have a "Respect each other section": "Treat your fellow riders and drivers as you would like to be treated yourself: with respect. Always try to be on time for your ride because nobody likes to wait. It’s common courtesy not to shout, swear or slam the car door. And by tidying up after yourself — whether it’s taking your trash home or cleaning up a spilled drink — you’ll keep the car in good condition and ensure the next person has a pleasant ride, too. Most important of all, remember that when you use Uber you will meet people who may look different or think differently from you. Please respect those differences. We want everyone to feel welcome when they use Uber."
In addition to filing the complaint with the city Human Right's Commission, the couple reported the incident to Uber, as did Elbotari. The couple's $22 fare was eventually refunded to them, and the ride-sharing company says it is investigating the incident.