The internet is outraged from every direction since The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an article about a lawsuit where a class of gay men sued company Spark Networks and its service ChristianMingle.com under a California anti-discrimination law for failing to offer a dating optin to LGBT people. WSJ also published a copy of the judgment. But the case made no legal rule.
“JUDGMENT” ONLY AFFECTS THE PEOPLE INVOLVED
According to the judgment, both parties entered into a “Settlement Agreement.” Spark Networks agreed to eliminate its “men seeking women” and “women seeking men” selections and to pay the two plaintiffs $9000 each. The attorneys pick up $450,000.
It’s called a “Judgment,” it is signed by a judge, and it has the force of law for the people involved. But this judgment exists because both parties volunteered to compromise in a “Settlement Agreement” and a judge signed off on it. Neither party wanted to take the next step to pursue its rights, and the judge got the case off her desk.
Everyone agreed to stand down.
The two men filing the lawsuit gave up their right to attempt to establish any general protection under the California law.They settled for the company simply changing the options from “men seeking women” and “women seeking men” to merely showing “men” and “women.” Apparently, actual men seeking men would choose the “men” option and search through men who are not likely to be seeking men. Nothing real was actually accomplished. But the two men suing got $9000 each.
Company Spark Networks gave up its right to have a branded service explicitly dedicated to straight Christians. Now it will just be understood as dedicated to straight Christians. No loss here.
However, the company had to fork out $468,000 to make the case go away. Spark Networks has a stock market value of $37 million. The company lost $2.3 million in the first quarter and is expected to lose money in the second quarter. Getting out from under this lawsuit before costs mount and negative publicity comes was likely a strategic decision. To date, the company has not even released an official statement.
The attorneys ran off with a bundle — $450,000 to reach a settlement in fourteen months. That is $32,143 a month for a single case.
Finally, the judge has one less case in the workload.
FUTURE POSSIBILITIES AND PRECEDENTS
While Spark Networks has agreed to bind itself to this settlement, anyone else who might file a similar lawsuit against a different company in this jurisdiction or in any other region will not be bound by this judgment.
The two men in this suit may have been smart to run off with the $9000 each because the California law has never been used in a similar situation. In a prior case, the top court in California refused to require the Boy Scouts to accept a gay scoutmaster. The same court also required businesses to stop charging less to women than to men.
In fact, the National Coalition For Men (NCFM) which “raises awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys” encourages men to use the law [PDF] to file complaints and even publishes the same official state fact sheet at its site.