Civil rights group withdraws allegations against Kozmo.com

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Three months after its discrimination suit against online delivery service Kozmo.com Inc. was dismissed in federal court, a Washington-based civil rights group today dropped the matter altogether and said the alleged discrimination didn't actually occur.

In a statement issued today as part of a joint announcement with Kozmo.com, David Berenbaum, the former executive director of the Equal Rights Center (ERC), said the civil rights group has decided that the New York-based company didn't use racial redlining practices in initially avoiding some predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Washington.

"Based on our discussions with Kozmo executives and our review of the evidence, we concluded that the definition of Kozmo's initial service area was not motivated by racial discrimination," said Berenbaum, who left the ERC about a month ago. He couldn't be reached for additional comment today.

The ERC filed suit against Kozmo.com in April, charging that the company used racial redlining to avoid making deliveries in some parts of Washington. The suit was dismissed by a federal court judge in September, but ERC officials insisted that it would be refiled later in a local District of Columbia court. That never occurred and is no longer planned, according to Berenbaum.

A Kozmo.com spokeswoman said today that the company continued to have discussions with the ERC after the federal suit was dismissed. "We're pleased by the statements that they have made because we have maintained all along that race was never a factor in determining our service areas," she said.

Just days after the ERC's suit against Kozmo.com was dismissed in U.S. District Court, the company announced plans to broaden its delivery range in Washington and several other cities. Included in the expanded areas were neighborhoods that are racially mixed or have predominantly African-American or Hispanic populations.

Kozmo.com said at the time that the service area additions "represent the natural progression of our business model" and weren't related to the discrimination suit. In his statement today, Berenbaum said furthering civil rights goals would be easier "if every company reacted as swiftly as Kozmo to eliminate the appearance of discrimination."

Kozmo.com and the ERC also announced a joint initiative to help increase Internet access in underserved neighborhoods in and around Washington. Funding for the initiative will come from a $125,000 donation that Kozmo.com is making, they said.

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