Civil Rights

Why on Earth Would a Topless Pool Charge Women Less Than Men?

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The Nevada Equal Rights Commission has ruled that a Las Vegas health club illegally discriminated against men by charging them more for membership than women. At the same time, the commission said it was OK for the Las Vegas Athletic Club to give women, but not men, a sex-segregated workout area, since their "body parts might be exposed" in the course of vigorous exercise. Todd Phillips, the California lawyer who filed the complaint that led to the ruling and now plans to seek $1 million in damages from the club (he seems to have made a career out of such lawsuits), called the latter part of the decision "utterly ridiculous," noting, "I've got body parts." Women, of course, have more body parts that are traditionally kept covered in public, which you could say is another form of unfair sex discrimination, but surely not one that can be blamed on the gym.

Speaking of which, another complainant, a 25-year-old New Yorker named Adam Russin, wants a topless pool at the Mandalay Bay Resort-Casino to stop charging men $50 for admission while letting women in for just $10. A spokesman for MGM Mirage, which owns the resort, "said in a statement that the company viewed price differences based on sex to be a lawful business strategy and not a civil rights matter." He did not specify the business strategy, but it's a fair bet that encouraging women to take off their tops helps attract more male customers. Businesses like the Las Vegas Athletic Club presumably also want to bring in more women as a way of bringing in more men (although the gym's official motivation is that "men cost the club more, in part because they are more likely to fail to pay their bills"). Ditto the Vegas nightclubs that charge women less, a practice that is now in legal jeopardy.

States are divided on the question of whether this is the sort of thing that can safely be tolerated in a civilized society. While "courts and civil rights panels in California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey have ruled that price discrimination against men is unlawful," The New York Times reports, "in Illinois, Michigan and Washington, judges have stated that it can be part of an acceptable business strategy."