Kozmo.com Discrimination Lawsuit Moves

A discrimination lawsuit that charges the Kozmo.com Inc. online delivery service with avoiding predominately African-American neighborhoods in Washington has been moved out of federal district court.

The suit, filed in April by a civil rights group on behalf of two plaintiffs, was being heard before U.S. District Court Senior Judge June Green. But on Friday, the judge -- who had placed the case on a "fast-track" schedule to complete it before the end of the year -- denied a motion by the plaintiffs asking for more time to prepare their case before going to trial.

In response to another motion from the plaintiffs, who argued that they couldn't meet the schedule set by Green, the judge dismissed the case before her so that it can be refiled in District of Columbia Superior Court. There aren't expected to be the same kind of time constraints in that venue.

David Berenbaum, the executive director of the Washington-based Equal Rights Center, which filed the lawsuit, said Green's ruling took no stand on the merits of the case, leaving them for Superior Court judges to decide. "This thing is not going away," Berenbaum said.

Andy Marks, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, added that he plans to refile the suit in Superior Court later this week. Both sides agreed to the judge's actions, he added.

In an announcement issued on Friday, New York-based Kozmo.com said the federal court had dismissed the discrimination suit. But the company didn't mention in the announcement that the matter would now be moved to D.C. Superior Court.

The lawsuit charges that Kozmo.com uses racial redlining to avoid making deliveries in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Washington. The two individual plaintiffs claimed that they haven't been able to order goods through Kozmo.com's Web site because they live in parts of the city that the company won't serve.

Irene Chang, senior counsel at Kozmo.com, today said the company denies all of the charges made by the plaintiffs and remains prepared to defend itself in the new court against "all allegations of improper discrimination."

Kozmo.com's methodology for deciding what areas it will deliver goods to in the cities where the company does business "focuses on Internet penetration and other factors," not the racial makeup of neighborhoods, Chang added.

In a statement that was part of Friday's announcement, Kenneth Trevathan, Kozmo.com's chief operating officer, noted that the company "was founded by two Asian-Americans [and] received important funding and guidance from African-Americans."

The company, established in 1997, delivers food, video rentals, CDs and other consumer goods that are ordered via the Internet. It currently operates in 11 U.S. cities, including Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.

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