Lawsuit alleges Georgia’s DDS discriminates against Puerto Rican citizens

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ATLANTA (CNN)- The state of Georgia is accused of discriminating against Puerto Ricans trying to get driver’s licenses.

A New lawsuit filed by a Latino civil rights group alleges Puerto Ricans are subjected to additional “quizzes” — and their applications are purposely flagged for fraud review.

Food, frogs, flags… Those are just some of the topics a lawsuit claims the Georgia Department of Driver Services asks Puerto Ricans about in order to get a driver’s license.

Attorneys with the Latino Justice Organization and Southern Center for Human Rights filed the class action suit this week, accusing the state DDS of violating the Civil Rights Act by engaging in “race-based stereotyping or implicit bias against Puerto Ricans”

“If you’re from Puerto Rico, you’re scrutinized. They determine that only and solely because you’re born in Puerto Rico, and you have a Puerto Rico driver’s license, a Puerto Rico birth certificate, that they need to investigate your file,” said Jorge Vasquez, attorney for the plaintiff’s.

Latino Justice says it’s representing at least 40 plaintiffs who say they were quizzed on random Puerto Rican topics.

CNN has reviewed a document provided by Latino Justice labeled “Puerto Rican Interview Guide” and includes the trivia-style questions described in the lawsuit, about baseball players, geography, popular dishes, slang and politics. Some appear to be trick questions.

The only named plaintiff- Kenneth Caban Gonzalez says he’s been trying to get a Georgia license since October 2017. Attorneys say his documents have still not been returned and he can’t work, since he can’t drive.
“Why would a state single out simply individuals who are born in Puerto Rico, simply because they were born in Puerto Rico, as if they’re not U.S. citizens? As if they’re less than, as if they’re second class citizens?” questioned Vasquez.

The DDS says it has not yet received the lawsuit and can’t comment on it, but noted that the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.

When asked about the origins of that “guide”, a spokesperson told CNN: “the document was not sanctioned and/or authorized by DDS administration.” 

Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, released a statement Wednesday asking Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to look into the allegations- saying “this is absurd. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and cannot be treated unequally in any U.S. jurisdiction.”

Governor Kemp’s office did respond to CNN’s  request for comment on this, saying that this was pending litigation so they can’t comment on the specifics of the claim, but did say, the governor has asked for the DDS commission to look into what’s being alleged here. They also said they do expect all state employees to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

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