Separate is Not Equal:  Class Action  Charges eHarmony Continues to Marginalize Gays

 

SAN FRANCISCO, March 31, 2009 – The well-known on-line dating company, eHarmony, Inc., launched a dating website today for gays and lesbians in order to resolve a charge previously brought by the New Jersey Attorney General.  The Attorney General had challenged eHarmony’s refusal to allow gays and lesbians to access the services of the company’s flagship dating site:  “eHarmony.com.”  But instead of allowing gays and lesbians to use eHarmony.com, the company chose to resolve the charge by creating a separate dating site for gays and lesbians, called “Compatible Partners.” 

 

In the meantime, another class action lawsuit against eHarmony for discrimination based on sexual orientation continues to move forward in California, where eHarmony is based.  The plaintiffs in that case maintain that eHarmony’s decision to establish a separate site for gays rather than integrate its flagship site, eHarmony.com, amounts to an unlawful “separate but equal” policy and the continued marginalization of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.  The California case has been certified as a class action.  California Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney recently approved the notice plan to inform all potential plaintiffs regarding the status of the case.

 

eHarmony.com, headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., claims to be the Internet's number one trusted relationship services provider.  The online dating service also claims to be available to millions of people of all ages, ethnicities, national origins and religious and political beliefs who seek compatible long-term relationships.  However, the company's policy has been to deny its service to anyone seeking a same-sex relationship. 

 

eHarmony.com claims its services and features are based on research of heterosexual couples and that a separate site is needed to service same-sex couples.  The dating Web site also claims that creation of Compatible Partners alleviates it of claims of discrimination. 

 

“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.  There will be further proceedings to determine how and when such individuals will be able to submit claims for damages in the case.  Additional information can be found by calling 415.421.7100 or by submitting an inquiry on www.schneiderwallace.com.

 

Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky LLP represents workers and consumers in class action litigation matters around the country.  For 15 years, the firm’s attorneys have handled matters involving workplace benefits, disability rights, employment discrimination issues and consumer rights.  On the Web:  www.schneiderwallace.com

 

The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak is a San Francisco-based firm focused on the representation of individuals in employment and other civil rights matters.  On the Web:  www.pasternaklaw.com