EQUALITY WATCH : Pricey Problem

A woman in California pays an average of $1.71 more to have her shirt laundered than a man. Her basic haircut might cost an average of $5 more. Women typically pay more than men for a car.

He pays. She pays more.

Gender bias in the pricing of goods and services is one of those inequities that stubbornly persists in California and as well as in other parts of the country. Women have long grumbled about price discrimination. Various surveys, most recently one conducted last month by the Assembly Office of Research, have found that women often pay than men more for laundry, dry cleaning, haircuts, alterations and automobiles.

Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame) has introduced AB 2418, known as the Equal Pricing Act, to make it illegal to charge different prices to men and women for the same goods and services. Prices would not be set or controlled. Existing California law prohibits businesses from discriminating against a person based on gender. The Assembly Ways and Means Committee will hear the bill on Wednesday.

Opponents say the bill is not needed because of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which among other things already prohibits arbitrary discrimination by businesses.

Perhaps, but the Legislative Counsel of California cites only one case in which the Unruh act was used to disallow gender price discrimination--in the narrow context of special discounts for "ladies night" at a bar and "ladies day" at a car wash. A law expressly banning gender-biased pricing merits serious consideration in Sacramento.

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