Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Suit by Male Clubgoers Over Higher Admission Charges Rejected
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A patron who claims that a business charged a discriminatory price or fee based on gender can only sue if he or she demanded and was refused equal treatment, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Five rejected consolidated suits by Marc Angelluci and three other males against the Century Supper Club. Angelluci, a Glendale attorney, is president of the Coalition of Free Men, a group that fights what it alleges to be unfair treatment of men in the law, the media, and society generally.
The group suffered a defeat recently when the Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling that it lacked standing to challenge a number of allegedly discriminatory state laws, including those that provide for specific medical services for women or specifically address women’s health issues, establish domestic violence task forces with state funding, create an office for women veterans’ affairs within the state Department of Veteran Affairs, and provide special assistance for women who are engaged in, or can be trained to engage in, nontraditional occupations through the unemployment insurance system.
Also attacked were laws that assist pregnant prison inmates as well as female inmates with children, direct science educators to address “the needs of women” in approving projects, and establish a non-mandatory participation goal for women-owned businesses contracting with community colleges.
In the Century Supper Club suits, the men claimed that on numerous occasions in June and July 2002, they went to the club and were charged $20 admission, even though women attending on those nights were admitted for $15 or free.
The club, which advertises itself as a venue for dining, dancing, and entertainment, is located in Century City. Its Web site advertises different admission prices depending on the time one enters the club, but makes no suggestion that men and women are ever charged different rates.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Kalin, who sits on assignment, granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendant. Kalin based his decision on language in Koire v. Metro Car Wash (1985) 40 Cal.3d 24.
Koire involved a man who sued under the Unruh Act, challenging “Ladies’ Day” discounts offered by certain establishments. The Supreme Court held that gender-based pricing violates the Unruh Civil Rights Act, but that “[a]t a minimum, men who wish to be charged the same price as women on ‘Ladies’ Day’ must affirmatively assert their right to equal treatment.”
Gender Tax Repeal
The Legislature subsequently enacted the Gender Tax Repeal Act, which expressly prohibits the sale of goods and services with different prices for men and women. Analyses accompanying the bill explained that the legislation was necessary because no other published case had applied the Unruh Act to gender-based pricing, and Koire had done so only “in the narrow context of special discounts” on specific days. The tax repeal act explicitly requires a demand for equal pricing as a prerequisite for a suit.
Justice Orville Armstrong, writing for the Court of Appeal yesterday, said that Kalin was correct in ruling that a plaintiff claiming gender discrimination in pricing must request equal treatment prior to suing, regardless of whether the action is based on the Unruh Act or the tax repeal act.
In doing so, Armstrong rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the “at a minimum” language was not part of the holding in Koire.
“Insofar as gender-based price discounts are concerned, the Unruh Act and the Gender Tax Repeal Act are parallel statutes,” the justice wrote. “They prohibit the same conduct and are addressed to the same societal evils, and thus are subject to the same pleading and proof requirements.”
It would have been an “oddity,” he wrote, for the Legislature to include a request requirement under the repeal act if it intended to allow Unruh Act suits without any such request, especially since the two statutes provide the same remedies, including minimum damages and attorney fees.
Attorneys on appeal were Morse Mehrban for the plaintiffs and Steven L. Martin for the club.
The case is Angelluci v. Century Supper Club, B173281.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company