Internet Retailer Faces Bias Lawsuit

Article excerpt

An Internet retailer is being charged with discriminating against predominantly black neighborhoods in the District.

The Equal Rights Center, a D.C.-based civil rights group, and two black D.C. residents filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday against Kozmo.com Inc., which delivers goods bought on the World Wide Web.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, claims Kozmo.com delivers only to Northwest, avoiding the rest of the District sectors because they have higher black concentrations.

"It's taken the issue of discrimination from the streets and storefronts and brought it to the Internet," said David Berenbaum, executive director of the Equal Rights Center, formerly the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington. "The Internet is marketed as the great equalizer, and clearly in this case it is not."

Kozmo.com spokesman Neil Geary would not comment on the lawsuit but denied an MSNBC.com report that the New York-based Internet company did not offer its services to many neighborhoods that had high concentrations of black residents.

"We reject completely the allegations on MSNBC," Mr. Geary said. "They were false, irresponsible and a clear misrepresentation of how Kozmo.com conducts business.

"As an Internet-based company, Kozmo.com makes decisions about which markets and areas it serves based on where there is the greatest Internet penetration and usage," he said. "Our present service areas include many diverse neighborhoods."

The Washington region is the most Internet-connected area in the country, with nearly 60 percent of adults connected to the Web, according to a study by Scarborough Research of New York.

Kozmo.com, which delivers movie rentals, music, books, food and other goods within an hour of ordering, began operating in the District in the fall and opened a warehouse at 14th and S streets NW.

Kozmo.com goes to 10 zip codes in the District, skipping 11 others with a high concentration of blacks, according to research by the Equal Rights Center.

The company serves only the District, not the suburbs. …