Hindsight: 25 Years Ago
California Lawyer

Hindsight: 25 Years Ago

October 2010


On October 17, 1985, writing for a unanimous California Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rose Bird held that the Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code § 51) prohibits businesses from offering gender-based "ladies' night" price discounts (Koire v. Metro Car Wash, 40 Cal. 3d 24 (1985)).

Anaheim college student Dennis Koire had objected to the reduced prices offered exclusively to women by local businesses. Koire went to court against a bar and seven car washes after he tried to take advantage of discounts aimed at females and was repeatedly refused. The owner of one car wash even told him to "come back when you're wearing a skirt or bring your mother and have her drive."

Even after the high court found that ladies' night specials amount to gender-based discrimination, the practice continued. This prompted the state Legislature to pass the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995 (Cal. Civ. Code § 51.6), which explicitly prohibits "sex-based price discounts."

No longer just a California phenomenon, the ban on ladies' nights price breaks has spread to other states, including Colorado, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Legislators have also drafted statutes that pick up where the Koire decision left off. Nevada, for example, has con-firmed that in addition to public establishments, its 2005 anti-discrimination laws apply to private clubs such as gyms.

In an unfortunate postscript, a shooting at Koire's Westminster home in February left him critically injured, and his girlfriend and co-plaintiff in various gender-discount lawsuits was killed.

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