In April 2014, Stephanie Burns’ company, Chic CEO, was gearing up for a networking event at an Italian restaurant in San Diego. Chic CEO hosts online resources for women starting their own businesses, and this spring evening it had teamed up with a local networking group to throw a mixer at Solare Lounge, where women could mingle over cocktails and appetizers while talking business.
During the event, Rich Allison, Allan Candelore, and Harry Crouch appeared at the restaurant door. They had each paid the $20 admission fee, and they told the hosts they wanted to enter the event. Chic CEO turned them away, saying that “the event was only open to women,” according to the men’s version of events, explained later in a legal complaint. Within two months, the three men had filed a discrimination lawsuit against Burns and her company alleging that the event discriminated against men. They are each members of the nation’s oldest men’s rights group, the National Coalition for Men, and Crouch is the NCFM’s president.
The lawsuit is a recent example of a trend that several men’s rights activists have repeatedly deployed in California, one made more successful by their strategic use of the Unruh Act, a decades-old civil rights law named after Jesse Unruh, the progressive former speaker of the California Assembly. The law is quite broad,outlawing discrimination based on markers such as age, race, sex, or disability. In dozens of lawsuits, several NCFM members have invoked it to allege discrimination against men by such varied groups as sports teams and local theaters. And the strategy has worked.