Yellow Cab controversy: New driver comes forward, says he lost job for reporting abuse

Mean streets westword cover.jpg
Westword's recent cover story "Mean Streets" focused on East African immigrants who claim they were victims of abuse and discrimination at Yellow Cab, Denver's oldest cab company. But it turns out immigrants aren't the only Yellow Cab workers with complaints. Former Yellow Cab driver Doug Wennerstrom contacted Westword to say that he believes he was forced out of his job for reporting abuse and discrimination at the company.

"They are totally corrupt. Their only oversight is the public utilities commission, and they seem to have an agreement with them over how they are going to operate, and they operate with impunity," says Wennerstrom of Yellow Cab, which he worked for on and off for the past decade. He says the company would try to charge him for unwarranted fines, claiming paperwork he filed wasn't correct or that he forgot to refill his cab's gas tank before turning it in, fines they would rescind once he questioned them. He also says that he was not assigned a cab for weeks at a time because he refused to tip the company cashiers that handled taxi assignments. "They scolded me repeatedly," he says, "saying if I helped them, then they would help me."

But he says his situation paled in comparison to that of his East African colleagues. "They treated the black drivers, the immigrant drivers, even worse than they treated us. They roughed up the immigrant cab drivers, they phantom-fined them, they nickeled and dimed them for things they couldn't justify, they were verbally and even physically abusive. Yellow Cab seemed to want their driver fleet to be as white as possible so they would appear to have some balance in their driver fleet."

No one at Yellow Cab is able respond to allegations of abuse or discrimination because of ongoing litigation over the issue, says Ruth Otte, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Veolia Transportation, the company that owns of Yellow Cab. This past summer, 21 East African drivers filed a lawsuit against the company over their complaints, a lawsuit that has now been dismissed because the parties have agreed to settle the matter through arbitration.

Two years ago, as part of legal preparations leading up to the lawsuit and arbitration, Wennerstrom says he received a phone call from a law firm representing Yellow Cab.

"They were gathering information to determine if these claims were legitimate or not, and I told them, yes, they were," he says. "They asked me if this stuff was going on, whether immigrant drivers were being abused verbally or physically, and I told them that was going on down there.

"I told them the truth," he says, "and I never worked there again."

After the phone call, says Wennerstrom, he was never assigned another car at Yellow Cab, for which managers offered no explanation. Finally, after several months, he says he was refunded just $600 of the $1,000 deposit he was required to pay before working there.

Wennerstrom says he misses driving cabs, but adds, "Maybe it's good that I am out of it." After all, he says, "It's a crazy industry."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Yellow Cab controversy: Couple gives Nuggets seats to driver who couldn't afford tix for son." Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner.

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