Discrimination trial begins after man claims Martha’s Vineyard bus driver refused to pick him up “because he was black”

John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Sept. 18 2019, Boston, MA. Photo by Chris O'Brien/BU News Service

By Chris O’Brien
BU News Service

BOSTON – Opening arguments began Monday in a civil suit against a Martha’s Vineyard bus driver and his employer by a New Bedford man who claims he was denied based on his race.

Kevin Brooks is seeking $2,750,000 in damages from the Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority, its operating company Transit Connection Incorporated and bus driver James Taylor, according to the plaintiff’s complaint.

On July 11, 2018, Brooks began his usual commute home from his barbershop in Edgartown by waiting for the 13 Bus to take him to catch the ferry home. In his testimony, Brooks stated Taylor saw him waiting at the stop and drove past him. 

In their opening statement, the defense claimed that Taylor’s bus was too full for him to stop and pick up any more passengers at the time. 

Brooks testified that he quickly called an Uber and caught up to Taylor’s bus at the ferry stop, where Brooks decided to ask Taylor why he had driven past him. The conversation was captured on bus cameras and was shown to the jury during the plaintiff’s opening statements. 

The video showed Brooks confronting Taylor, who explained that the bus had been too full for him to pick Brooks up at the time.

Brooks testified he was about to walk away until Taylor looked over with a smile and said, “Well, it’s because you’re black.”

“I felt like I was being discriminated against,” Brooks testified. “I felt belittled. People on the bus chuckled. I just felt angry.” 

Brooks filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination that night, and Taylor was fired the following day. Lawyers representing Transit Connection stated that Taylor was fired for his language and not for discriminatory conduct. 

The defense claimed that Taylor had made an inappropriate comment in an attempt to be funny and alluded to a later point in the video where Brooks reportedly recognized that Taylor was joking but was not amused. 

Additionally, the defense stated that they planned to show the jury video evidence of Taylor denying to pick up a white man a minute before he drove past Brooks.

The jury will reconvene Tuesday morning. 

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