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When is Gender Exclusivity Legal?

Published:  June 16, 2017

Recently, several media outlets ran a story about a Law School professor who filed a complaint against a Texas movie theatre for holding a Women-Only screening of the new “Wonder Woman” film.  The headline grabbed people’s attention, but the articles, I suspect, did very little to educate readers on when gender-exclusive events, clubs, or organizations are legally acceptable.

While the law generally disfavors discrimination on the basis of gender, we see it all around us: fraternities and sororities; private, single-gender schools; gender-exclusive social clubs; and gender-specific sports leagues.  In fact, there are still golf courses in this country that refuse admit women.  The justification for limiting a service to a single gender can range from valid biological rationale to indefensible bigotry, and depending on the circumstances, both can be legal.  The truth is that this area of law can be complicated.

Where is the line?  The First Amendment’s Right to Expressive Association affords you the right to choose the people with whom you associate.  This is among the most essential rights afforded to us by the U.S. Constitution; however, this right is not absolute.  Our enjoyment of this right is given the strongest protection in our personal lives, and the least protection when engaging in business.  The law recognizes that the State’s compelling interest in eliminating gender discrimination generally outweighs an individual’s Right to Expressive Association when it comes to activities and places that are open to, and solicit patronage, from the general public.  These are called places of public accommodation, and anti-discrimination laws generally apply in these environments.

For more information on this issue, look for our upcoming article in Business West.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal, P.C.