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A group of men are using a 1959 California anti-discrimination law against those some argue it was intended to protect.
Men’s rights activists have cited the Unruh Civil Rights Act to challenge women- or girls-only events and businesses by claiming that in these instances men are being discriminated against. The Unruh Civil Rights Act states that all citizens “no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”
The latest incident stems from a networking event hosted by Chic CEO last April at at Solare Lounge in San Diego, California. According to the complaint, Rich Allison, Allan Candelore, and Harry Crouch were turned away at the door of the networking event after paying the $20 registration fee online. The complaint alleges that they were explicitly turned away solely based on their sex. Chic CEO founder Stephanie Burns told CNNMoney that the men were turned away because the event was at capacity.
In May 2014, the men sought injunctive relief and damages from Chic CEO. They’re represented by Alfred G. Rava, a lawyer involved in a number of such men’s rights activist-related cases and is the secretary on the board of directors for the MRA organization National Coalition for Men. In the past 12 years, he has filed 150 sex discrimination lawsuits in California, CNN reports.
In May, Harry Crouch, president of the NCFM and a plaintiff in the case against Burns, sent a letter to the Geek Girl organization that puts on a tech conference to empower women in girls in technology, warning the event could be in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Crouch regularly sends letters to organizations and events that are marketed as women-only or women-focused, according to CNN.
The Chic CEO case was settled out of court, and Burns told Yahoo News that she’s since taken a new job as the COO of an organization connecting startups to potential entrepreneurs.
Her experience helped inspire a petition launched last month by the nonprofit Women.VC, according to CNNMoney.
“With the team of volunteering professionals and entrepreneurs,” the petition page states, “we would like to work on any possible solution to prevent women-focused businesses from being unfairly attacked under any law.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the number of individuals involved in the claim and a statement attributed to Al Rava. This article and its headline have been updated for clarity and with additional information about the complaint provided by Rava to the Daily Dot as well as the petition launched by Women.VC.
Selena Larson is a technology reporter based in San Francisco who writes about the intersection of technology and culture. Her work explores new technologies and the way they impact industries, human behavior, and security and privacy. Since leaving the Daily Dot, she's reported for CNN Money and done technical writing for cybersecurity firm Dragos.