Hull says opposition to Uber led to his firing as Taxicab Bureau boss _lowres

Advocate staff photo by John McCusker -- The New Orleans City Council heard from cab drivers, like Dolores Montgomery, and members of the hospitality and convention industry while debating whether or not to give cab drivers a break on the age of their cabs Thursday, November 7, 2013. The city's Eric Granderson and Malachi Hull, deputy director of the Department of Safety and Permits, are left and middle.

Malachi Hull, who was fired from his job as director of the city’s Taxicab and For Hire Vehicle Bureau in July, has filed a lawsuit against the city contending that he was terminated as retaliation for speaking out against the city’s plan to support the entry of a “transportation network company” into the local market.

“Transportation network company” is the general name for outfits like Uber and Lyft that use online platforms to connect passengers with drivers of personal vehicles. Hull’s suit does not name the company, though the timeline of his complaint fits with the city’s push to welcome Uber into the local market.

Hull’s dismissal was announced late in the evening of the July 4 holiday. Although an announcement from the Mayor’s Office did not give any reasons for the action, Hull had been reprimanded earlier in the wake of widespread criticism of some of his employees. He also was the subject of a highly critical report on his job performance by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux.

The Taxicab Bureau oversees for-hire vehicles and companies, tour guides and brake tag stations.

In his lawsuit, Hull says he “was subjected to a disparate treatment and retaliation” after expressing his concerns about Uber’s safety record and history of running afoul of local laws.

“After bringing his concerns to the attention of the appropriate officials, (the city) prohibited (Hull) from attending meetings with City Council members to address concerns regarding the negative impact that an unregulated entity would have on the city of New Orleans and the existing for-hire industry,” the lawsuit says.

Hull was “marginalized by his superiors and denied access to meetings with council members and was ultimately terminated” from his post because of his “outspoken opposition to (Uber) being allowed to participate in the for-hire industry without the same rules and regulations that govern pre-existing participants,” the lawsuit says.

He is asking to be reinstated with back pay from the date of his termination and other damages.

Hull also has filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A scathing report by Quatrevaux last year accused Hull of “gross negligence” and failing to properly run his department.

The report said he failed to ensure that the bureau’s inspectors were properly trained and lied to investigators about his knowledge of their lack of preparedness. It also said the bureau failed to maintain accurate and organized files and records.

Hull had worked for the city for three years after being personally recruited for the job by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. During his tenure, New Orleans instituted a package of new rules for the taxicab industry, including setting maximum ages for vehicles used as cabs and requiring that all cabs be equipped with credit card machines, GPS devices and security cameras. The changes were hotly opposed by many cab owners.

Quatrevaux looked into Hull’s performance at the request of Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin following incidents involving some of the bureau’s inspectors. In one instance, an inspector pepper-sprayed and handcuffed a cab driver during an October squabble in the French Quarter.

Hull was reprimanded in that incident for not “responding adequately to inappropriate actions by employees,” the city said.

In another case, tour guide Wendy Bosma filed suit after an altercation with an inspector, who wrenched Bosma’s arm behind her back in an attempt to confiscate her license.

The inspector said Bosma had violated a city ordinance mandating that tour groups remain at least 50 feet away from one another. Hull watched as the incident unfolded but did not intervene. The inspector was booked with simple battery and later fired.

Citing those two cases of “excessive and unjustified” force, the inspector general’s report said Hull failed to ensure both that the bureau’s investigators were properly trained and that they didn’t step outside the bounds of their authority.