Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Serve me, or else.

Posted by Ron Coleman on May 31, 2007

Reuters says that eHarmony has been sued for running its business pursuant to its own moral — or business — compass:

The popular online dating service eHarmony was sued on Thursday for refusing to offer its services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

A lawsuit alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Linda Carlson, who was denied access to eHarmony because she is gay.

I am sure she was not “denied access to eHarmony.” From the sound of it, she was denied the provision of services eHarmony doesn’t provide: Homosexual dating. How does eHarmony explain itself?

eHarmony could not immediately be reached for comment. Commenting in the past on eHarmony’s gay and lesbian policy, [Dr. Neil Clark] Warren has said that he does not know the dynamics of same-sex relationships but he expects the principles to be different.

You’ve heard the commercials, probably. Dr. Warren, in his strained voice, talking about his touchy-feely personalized matchup process. You can buy into that or not; but what he sells is what he claims to know. Homosexual relationships, he says, he does not know. Tough luck, Dr. Warren. California law requires you to know.

This is particularly interesting because, again, contrary to the “denied access” claim, homosexuals have by all indications not been denied access — they just want a new division of the company started for them:

Lawyers bringing the action said they believed it was the first lawsuit of its kind against eHarmony, which has long rankled the gay community with its failure to offer a “men seeking men” or “women seeking women” option.

The plaintiffs here are actually arguing that eHarmony is obligated not just to open up its existing service to people of all sexual predilections. It is requiring eHarmony to actually provide new services that it claims neither an interest nor any degree of expertise in, and which may require an outlay of millions of dollars. Let’s not even get into the moral preferences of the owners and management, which are presumed irrelevant by laws which outlaw discrimination against homosexuals or, in this case, may mandate the provision of special services to them.

Where are the libertarian defenders of free enterprise? We’ll see.

UPDATE:  The heavy lifters.

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18 Responses to “Serve me, or else.”

  1. I’m happily married now for 18 years, so I have zero experience with the on-line dating world. So it was news to me that eHarmony didn’t offer same-sex services.

    But it wasn’t news I learned here. No, I learned it when one of their competitors’ ads came on: a somewhat clever ad where a guy looks at some listings of attractive women, and then says, “Nope. Still gay.” Point made: “Hey, if eHarmony won’t help you, we’ll be happy to.”

    So the market has already solved this problem: eHarmony’s business choice created an opportunity, and a competitor is taking advantage of the opportunity. If this leads the competitor to get better known and better liked overall, then you can bet eHarmony will reconsider. If this remains a niche market and doesn’t have any carryover impact on brand loyalty, then eHarmony will continue to ignore the niche, and the competitor will find it a profitable niche to serve.

    Problem solved. Leave the courts out of it.

    What’s next: Mac users suing game companies who only write games for Windows?

  2. zach. said

    Ron,

    From what you say here, it seems like the entirety of eHarmony’s defense is that it doesn’t know what makes a good homosexual match, or at least that Dr. Warren’s gut feeling is that there would be different factors involved. I honestly have no freaking clue whether that is likely to be true or false. But to the extent that Dr. Warren has something which claims to be universal for all heterosexuals regardless of race, cultural background, etc., if some sort of (assume independent) fact-finding revealed that in fact Dr. Warren’s model fits homosexual compatibility as well as it fits heterosexual compatibility, is it still up to eHarmony who they chose to serve?

  3. Why not?

  4. zach. said

    Ron,

    maybe I’m misinformed here (it’s happened!), but isn’t it fairly routine to prohibit establishments from denying service based on race, gender, and creed?

    also, an honest question: does the fact that they are publicly traded enter into this discussion at all? are the rules different regarding this for companies that are privately versus publicly owned?

  5. Well, that’s a different discussion. I think that establishments should be permitted to deny service based on race, gender or creed, but the law disagrees with me; and now, too, it disagrees based on new criteria.

    But this is not about who shall be served, but what.

  6. zach. said

    Ron,

    well, that was sort of the point of my initial hypothetical. eHarmony claims that a matching service for homosexuals would differ significantly enough from one for heterosexuals that it would constitute essentially an entirely new business. or at least be more complicated than adding a tick-box about which gender you’re looking for. but i guess my point is that we have to take dr. warren’s word on this because he himself hasn’t even bothered to look into the issue.

    as you say, whether or not companies SHOULD be allowed to discriminate is a separate issue. but assuming that we follow current law (particularly current california law), then shouldn’t eHarmony at the very least be required to do some due diligence to figure out whether or not the matching standards for heterosexual couples differ from homosexual couples? or, if they can’t or don’t wish to front the cost for such a study, then is it the government’s job to resolve this?

  7. zach. said

    Ron,

    Michael D. left a great comment over on the DW thread. If the case doesn’t go eHarmony’s way, then the decision should be applied across the board, including to those sites which only offer homosexual matches, while denying heterosexuals service.

  8. AW1 Tim said

    Ron,

    I truly believe that, if one were to dig a might into this cae, that one would discover a Lesbian and a Lawyer who both had cash-flow problems.

    Filing a lawsuit against a well-known corporation is replete with financial opportunity for the plantiff and counsel, regardless of the outcome.

    I mean, heaven knows how much media time will now be devoted to this case. The Lawyer will get lots of print, as will the Lesbian. Talk show circuits with costs and honorariums paid, dollars for interviews, the adoration of GLBT magazines, websites, newsletters, radio shows, etc.

    The mind boggles at the potential for profit from such a venture. Hmmm…..

    Respects,

  9. […] a company doesn’t provide a service we desire? Ron Coleman takes note of an interesting new legal case: Reuters says that eHarmony has been sued for running its business pursuant to its own moral — or […]

  10. yoshi said

    For the record I don’t know any gay dating sites that don’t offer ‘male for female’ or ‘female for male’ options. Of course – your choices will be somewhat limited. Which is one of the reasons I am bothered by this case. Here is a lesbian who is trying to find a date on a website that well… has very little to offer in potential dates for her.

    But help me here. Using your logic don’t I have the right to sue -say- Banana Republic in my neighborhood because it only caters to women? That discrimination based on gender. Or the christian bookstore down the road because it doesn’t have any books on athiesm (i’ve checked) or judism. It seems to me that eHarmony is going after a specific market and has chosen not to offer their services to the GL community because it doesn’t understand it. Which i consider reasonable – they are quite different.

  11. Ara Rubyan said

    My goodness, this is a really fascinating development, isn’t it?

    A couple of random thoughts:

    1) First of all, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that my wife and I met through eHarmony. Therefore, it would be safe to say that we are eminently satisfied customers. We’ve even appeared on their web site (but not any TV commercials, at least not yet).

    2) Speaking for myself, I chose eHarmony because I was impressed with the paradigm that Warren went with: not just a paragraph and picture, but a whole protocol for communication (too lengthy to go into here, but it worked for us).

    3) I have a hazy understanding that Warren’s approach is based on a Christianity-centric view of relationships. That said, it worked for us although neither one of us is Christian.

    That said, I did not know (but I’m not surprised) that the service does not include G&L matches. This raises all sorts of interesting questions about the role of religion versus sexual orientation in relationships — none of which I’ll go into here.

    4) And before I forget, did you know that the service will not be offered to those individuals who have been married 3 or more times? Does this mean Larry King will be going after Dr. Warren next? If so, I happen to know to that Larry King has very deep pockets — and lawyers to spare. Hmmm, on second thought, I guess his alimony is probably off the charts.

    5) As for the “hungry Lesbian lawyer” (or whatever it was) that someone mentioned earlier, I am reminded of what Mark Twain had to say about lawyers in general (paraphrasing): “If a town has one lawyer, he is a pauper; if a town has two, they live like kings.” Amen.

    6) Lastly, I have no idea how the US legal system will (or should) judge the merits of this case. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. But I am inclined to be sympathetic to Warren’s reasoning.

    But of course, I am far from a disinterested observer.

  12. zach. said

    Yoshi,

    gay.com is one.

    As to your other points we are in agreement. The lawsuit against eHarmony only has merit if it represents no deviation from eHarmony’s business model to include gays and lesbians. As you say, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that a dating site guaranteeing compatibility for heterosexuals may not work for homosexuals. To my knowledge, though, it is not KNOWN that what determines compatibility does or doesn’t change significantly across sexual orientations. I guess we’ll have to wait and see where the preponderance of evidence ends up on that score.

  13. […] With a tip of the hat to Ron Coleman at Dean’s World comes word of a certain clientele that will take a company to court for not catering to them. […]

  14. afwife said

    Give me a flippn break! Nowhere on their site does it say: Gays not welcome! I just checked it out for the first time.

    They have not denied ANYONE service. A gay person can STILL join the site.

    Here is an analogy that fits this so well:

    eHarmony = Meat only serving restaurant
    gay person = vegetarian

    Meat only restaurant does not serve vegetarian meals. Therefore the vegetarian would not go there to buy lunch, or if they did….they would be stupid to ask for a vegetarian meal KNOWING FULL WELL the restaurant serves meat eaters. They would find another restaurant that would serve them the food they CHOOSE to eat.

    Are all restaurants now going to be required to cater to ALL types of eaters? Do bakeries now have to serve salads to all those overweight people who are dieting? Does McDonalds now need to offer Kobe beef steaks to all those upper class food snobs?

    Also, gays can use the even MORE popular site MATCH.COM. That is where I met my husband 🙂 And there are gays on there too! I even got contacted by lesbians 🙂 LOL

    But I just went to match.com and was able to search for a WOMAN as a WOMAN. YES!!

    There, now they have a super popular place to go!

    What is the problem now? LOL

    This is so flippn ridiculous!

    Gays are NOT being denied service.

    I dont see what this is SO HARD for some to grasp.

    Oh my opinion that if someone wants to be gay and even live together or have some kind of civil union, go for it. So, I am far from being a gay hater. I just hate frivolous, ridiculous law suits and whiny complainers.

    I just think this law suit is so flippn ridiculous. I just wish I would have thought of it myself so I could sue the pants off of truemingle.com for not offering me straight men to choose from!

  15. Ara Rubyan said

    Excellent answer.

  16. BMS said

    Can you post the complaint, please?

    Sorry, I don’t have it. — RDC

  17. FIAR said

    This is an outrage! How dare eHarmony find a target market and market themselves to it? It’s just disgusting that they don’t provide their promise of matching on “29 dimensions of compatibility” to men seeking the ultimate car and women seeking the perfect pair of shoes.

    Oh, sure, eHarmony says their not equipped to do such a thing. What do they think they exist for? To turn a profit or something?

    No, they exist to give any person whatever it is that person demands. I want my compatibility for the computer of my dreams!

    The way eHarmony is acting, you’d think that it was like someone could just take their business elsewhere, or if they were feeling particularly adventurous, start up their own service strictly for the gay community.

    I feel sick.

  18. Gays – ‘eHarmony Can Stick it up the…’

    Ron Coleman points out a story that “eHarmony has been sued for running its business pursuant to its own moral — or business — compass:
    The popular online dating service eHarmony was sued on Thursday for refusing to offer its services to gays…

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