Sorry eHarmony: Just because you launched a same-sex match site doesn’t mean you’re out of legal trouble. Settling an anti-discrimination charge from New Jersey’s attorney general, Neil Clark Warren’s eHarmony yesterday unveiled Compatible Partners for gay men and women. But a class action suit making its way through California, where eHarmony is based, says the matchmaker hasn’t gone far enough — and their current two-site approach amounts to “separate but equal.” And violates law.
“Having been sued for discrimination, eHarmony’s response is not to stop discriminating but to instead create another business. Nothing in the law or logic allows companies to operate a business that discriminates so long as they open up another one that does not, nor does California equal rights law indulge the practice of separate but equal,” says Joshua Konecky of Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky, LLP, who is representing plaintiffs in a class action suit against eHarmony.com.
The class action complaint also names eHarmony.com’s founder, president and CEO, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, as a defendant. Warren started eHarmony.com with the help of James Dobson of “Focus on the Family.” The suit alleges that defendants eHarmony.com and Warren have engaged in unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation. The lawsuit also charges that the Web site’s policy violates the California Unruh Civil Rights Act. A trial is scheduled in the Los Angeles Superior Court on Oct. 20, 2009.
“To stop discriminating and comply with the law, the defendants must allow people seeking a same-sex relationship to access all the services and features of eHarmony.com, while on eHarmony.com, not a separate site,” added Jeremy Pasternak of The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak, who is also representing the plaintiffs.
In addition to injunctive relief, the court certified the plaintiffs’ claims for damages on behalf of all gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals who have attempted to use eHarmony.com at any time from May 31, 2004 through March 1, 2009. In the class certification order, the court noted that such individuals would not need to demonstrate actual injury to obtain damages, but just that they visited eHarmony.com to seek a same-sex match and were unable to do so.
Ahem. Let’s hold on a second here. Yesterday when we reported the launch of Compatible Partners, some accused us of “promoting a bigoted company.” This, when the only reason eHarmony launched this site is because gays were furious over their opposite-sex only approach to online dating.
Meanwhile, the California class action lawsuit argues eHarmony must provide both opposite- and same-sex dating on its flagship site. It’s a reasonable demand — in theory.
Until you think about Gay.com: Should that site be ordered by a court to offer opposite-sex dating right on Gay.com?
Connexion.org is bills itself as “Gay and Lesbian Social Networking, Dating, Chat and News.” Where is the class action lawsuit from heterosexuals demanding it set up, right on the homepage, another section for heterosexual social networking, dating, and news?
GKiss is the “first and largest dating site solely dedicated to gay males seeking quality, long-term relationships!” Sister site LDate.com will only “cater to serious lesbian singles searching for committed or lifetime partners.” Are these sites violating anti-discrimination laws because they discriminate based on sexual orientation? BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THEY DO.
eHarmony caved to the outcry of gays wanting them to open their service to our community. But unless we’re willing to tell dating sites for our own kind that they must, under threat of litigation, be forced to open themselves up to straight men and women, the matter might be better left untouched.