'Ladies' Night' Price Cuts Upset by State High Court : Opinion by Bird Cites Sex Bias

Times Staff Writer

Sex-based promotions such as so-called "ladies' night" discounts at bars violate state civil rights law and amount to sex discrimination, the state Supreme Court said today in a unanimous ruling.

In an opinion by Chief Justice Rose Bird, the court concluded that such price discounts at several bars and car washes in Orange County violated the "clear and unambiguous" language of the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibition against sex discrimination.

"Courts are often hesitant to upset traditional practices such as the sex-based promotional discounts at issue here," Bird wrote in reversing a lower court decision. "Some may consider such practices to be of minimal importance or to be essentially harmless.

"Yet, many other individuals, men and women alike, are greatly offended by such discriminatory practices."

No Discount for Males

The case at issue began in 1979, when Dennis Koire of Anaheim, then a teen-aged student, became enraged that women were receiving discounts at car washes of 15 cents to $1.80, and he was refused similar price breaks.

He became particularly upset, the court said, when he heard a radio advertisement for Jezebel's, which said the Anaheim bar was offering free admission to young women 18 to 21. Jezebel's also waived the $2 cover charge on its ladies' nights.

The court said it made no difference that Jezebel's offered men a similar discount on other nights. Such a discount would in turn discriminate against women.

Koire, now a 25-year-old retail clerk, testified that when he asked for the same discount as women, he was sometimes ridiculed. One car wash proprietor quipped, "I don't see you wearing a skirt."

'Essential Humanity'

"When men and women are prevented from recognizing one another's essential humanity by sexual prejudices, nourished by legal as well as social institutions, society as a whole remains less than it could otherwise become," Bird wrote, quoting a law review article on sex discrimination.

The court noted that promotions still can be used. Children can still get price discounts, as can senior citizens, the court noted. Additionally, a business could offer discounts to patrons who present a special coupon, wear a certain color shirt or have a particular bumper sticker, Bird said.

"The key is that the discounts must be applicable alike to persons of every sex, color and race, instead of being contingent on some arbitrary, class-based generalization," Bird wrote.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act states in part that all persons in the state "no matter what their sex . . . are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments. . . "

Although the opinion was unanimous, retired Justice Otto Kaus and Justice Malcolm Lucas said they agreed in the result only, indicating that they disagreed with some of Bird's reasoning or wording.

Attorney Ronald R. Talmo, who represented Koire, called it a "great statement by the court that sex discrimination has no relevancy."

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