Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Court Rejects Suit Over Dating Service Rates for Lack of Standing
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who sued an online dating service, saying its rates discriminated based on gender in violation of California civil rights laws, lacks standing because he never paid the rates, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
“In a case of first impression in California. we…adopt a bright-line rule that a person must tender the purchase price for a business’s services or products in order to have standing to sue it for alleged discriminatory practices relating thereto,” Justice James A. McIntyre wrote for Div. One.
The panel affirmed a summary judgment rejecting Steven Surrey’s suit against the proprietors of true.com, which—from November 2004 until May 2005—offered discounts to women in order to rectify the site’s disproportionately high number of male users.
Surrey claimed the discounts discriminated against men in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995, but San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan M. Lewis ruled in favor of the company. She based the ruling on undisputed evidence that while Surrey visited the site during the time the discounts were in effect, he did not join or otherwise request services.
McIntyre rejected the argument that the rule requiring liberal construction of civil rights statutes requires a broad definition of standing. Both statutes relied on by Surrey, the justice explained, clearly limit private-party standing to those whose rights have been “denied.”
McIntyre cited Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing v. Westwood Investors (1990) 221 Cal.App.3d 1377, holding that a nonprofit corporation supporting fair housing could not sue a landlord for maintaining discriminatory rental prices, and Orloff v. Hollywood Turf Club (1952) 110 Cal.App.2d 340, which held—under a predecessor to the Unruh Act—that a patron ejected from a racetrack and told not to return lacked standing to sue for damages based on his nonadmission on days that he did not actually attempt to enter the track.
The jurist distinguished Angelucci v. Century Supper Club (2007) 41 Cal.4th 160, in which the Supreme Court held that men who had allegedly been charged a higher admission fee than women at a night club had standing to sue under the two statutes regardless of whether they had demanded equal treatment, as long as they actually paid the higher rate.
Surrey, unlike the plaintiffs in Angelucci, acknowledged that he did not pay the discriminatory rate of which he complained, McIntyre noted.
Attorneys on appeal were Alfred G. Rava for the plaintiff and the Irvine firm of Payne & Fears for the defendants. Attorney Marc E. Angelucci of the Men’s Legal Center in San Diego filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff and the Pacific Legal Foundation filed one backing the defendants.
The case is Surrey v. TrueBeginnings, 08 S.O.S. 6231.
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