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Yes, Puerto Rican licenses are valid in the U.S., Hertz reminds its employees

Hertz has apologized and rewritten company policy after a Puerto Rican man was denied a rental car despite showing his valid U.S. driver's license.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Hertz has apologized and rewritten company policy after a Puerto Rican man was denied a rental car despite showing his valid U.S. driver's license.

Hertz has clarified to its employees that Puerto Rican driver's licenses are valid forms of identification for customers, following an incident in which agents of the rental car company called the police on a Puerto Rican man after demanding he show his passport in order to pick up a car.

Both Hertz and a local Louisiana police department apologized to the man, Puerto Rico resident Humberto Marchand. The incident was previously reported on by CBS News.

Afterward, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, wrote a letter to the company's CEO urging Hertz to implement a companywide "educational campaign" for its employees.

"It is unacceptable that, more than 100 years after having obtained US citizenship, Puerto Ricans are still being discriminated against and treated like second-class American citizens," González-Colón wrote.

In a response dated Tuesday, Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr wrote that he was "disappointed" to learn about the incident, which he called "unacceptable."

The company's policy already allowed customers with Puerto Rican driver's licenses to rent cars without showing a passport, Scherr said, but it has since been rewritten to "be even more clear" about the status of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

The company will emphasize the policy in communications with employees at its rental locations and call centers and add the topic to in-person training sessions, he added. "We will strive to make sure that Mr. Marchand's experience is not repeated," Scherr wrote.

On May 10, at the Hertz rental counter at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Marchand presented his valid Puerto Rican driver's license to pick up a prepaid reservation. According to Marchand, Hertz employees did not accept his license as a valid form of identification and asked to see a passport. He was not carrying his with him, he said, and agents ultimately denied him the car.

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

In a video recorded by Marchand, he can be heard asking an employee "Did you know that my driver's license in Puerto Rico is as valid as a Louisiana driver's license?" The employee tells him he is behaving illegally and calls the police.

Hertz later apologized for the incident. "We sincerely regret that our policy was not followed and have apologized to Mr. Marchand and refunded his rental," the company said in a statement earlier this month. "We are reinforcing our policies with employees to ensure that they are understood and followed consistently across our locations."

A police officer from Kenner, La., responded to the incident. In footage recorded by the officer's body-worn camera, the officer can be heard asking Marchand to leave.

"Maybe you can understand the words that are coming out of my mouth a little bit more clear for the third time," the officer says. "If they say you need a passport and you don't have one, and they say you need a passport to rent a car, what is your problem?"

The Kenner Police Department also later apologized. "I don't think that's the way we want to be portrayed, and he shouldn't have been spoken to in that manner," Police Chief Keith Conley said to local TV station WVUE.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.