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Jim Porter: Discounts for women only legal?

Jim Porter
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; The online matchmaking service, True.com, was very successful, but had a disproportionately high percentage of male patrons. So True.com offered free services to women who joined. Nothing wrong with that right?

Men discriminated against

Steven Surrey visited True.com but after discovering the discrepancy in its pricing policy, he did not subscribe or participate in the matchmaking services.

Feeling discriminated against as a man, Surrey sued the company in San Diego Superior Court claiming the differential pricing for services for women violated both the Unruh Act and the Gender Tax Repeal Act. Bet you didnand#8217;t know about the Gender Tax Repeal Act. (The legislative history showed studies concluding, and#8220;Adult women effectively pay a gender tax which costs each woman about $1,351 annually.and#8221;)

TrueBeginnings, LLC, owner of True.com, defended Surreyand#8217;s lawsuit, claiming he lacked and#8220;standing to sue.and#8221; The trial court ruled for True.com. Surrey appealed.

Unruh Act

The Unruh Act is an anti-discrimination statute. and#8220;All persons and#8230; no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.and#8221;

Gender Tax Repeal Act

The Gender Tax Repeal Act (love that title) provides that and#8220;No business establishment of any kind, whatsoever (why is and#8220;whatsoeverand#8221; in this code?) may discriminate, with respect to the price charged for services of similar or like kind, against a person because of the personand#8217;s gender.and#8221; I.e., gender based price discounts are against the law.

Whoever is discriminated against is liable for actual damages, possible treble damages and attorney fees suffered and#8220;by any person denied their rights provided (in the two statues).and#8221;

The question before the Court of Appeal was whether Surrey was denied his rights and entitled to sue and#8212; given that he never subscribed for or utilized the True.com matchmaking services. As Surrey probably argued, and#8220;Why would I have to actually utilize the online services when I would have been discriminated against?and#8221; Actually, Surrey probably would not have said and#8220;utilize,and#8221; only a lawyer would.

Other cases

The Court of Appeal discussed other cases where a patron was discriminated against because of his or her gender. A race track owner successfully defended a lawsuit filed by a would-be patron that was discriminated against and#8212; because he failed to attempt to gain admission to the track by presenting a ticket. In another case a patron who was denied service at a restaurant because he was not wearing a tie, even though the restaurant was serving female patrons who were wearing informal attire at that same time, properly had a claim under the Unruh Act.

The leading gender-discrimination case is Angelucci v. Century Supper Club, which we wrote about in 2005. Marc Angelucci sued the Supper Club because they admitted women free and men had to pay a $20 cover. The California Supreme Court found Angelucci had standing to sue because he had paid the discriminatory admission price to the night club.

At the time I lightheartedly chastised Angelucci for ending and#8220;Ladiesand#8217; Nightand#8221; in bars throughout California, and received a sincere e-mail from Marc reminding me that gender discrimination at any level is improper and illegal.

Court ruling

The Court of Appeal determined that Steven Surrey did not suffer discrimination other than and#8220;in the abstract,and#8221; given that he had not paid to join the online service, thus he lacked standing to seek relief for violations of the Unruh Act and the Gender Tax Repeal Act. The special discount price for women was discontinued shortly after Surreyand#8217;s suit was filed.

Gender discrimination law in California is clear, but amazingly at some dry-cleaners a woman still pays more to have a shirt or blouse dry-cleaned than a man pays for a similar shirt.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firmand#8217;s website http://www.portersimon.com.


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