eHarmony’s 29 Dimensions of… Litigation

by David Nieporent on June 1, 2007

The online dating service eHarmony promises to match its customers up based on 29 Dimensions of Compatibility. Apparently one dimension they didn’t think about was how litigation-happy some people might be. Now eHarmony is being sued for “sexual orientation discrimination” in California by a woman named Linda Carlson who claims she was “denied access” to eHarmony because she’s a lesbian. She’s seeking class action status plus unspecified damages, and wants the court to order eHarmony to change its policies.

Ronald Coleman of Likelihood of Success points out that the claim being made by the plaintiffs is not a traditional discrimination claim; the plaintiff is not claiming that eHarmony refused to accept her as a customer. Rather, her complaint is that the site simply doesn’t provide services that same sex couples want:

The plaintiffs here are actually arguing that eHarmony is obligated not just to open up its existing service to people of all sexual predilections. It is requiring eHarmony to actually provide new services that it claims neither an interest nor any degree of expertise in, and which may require an outlay of millions of dollars. Let’s not even get into the moral preferences of the owners and management, which are presumed irrelevant by laws which outlaw discrimination against homosexuals or, in this case, may mandate the provision of special services to them.

For what it’s worth, eHarmony’s founder claims that the reason they don’t provide these services is not because they want to discriminate, but because they have expertise in matching up men and women, but not same-sex couples. That’s okay; I’m sure that trial lawyers and a judge can figure out how to run the business.

Readers of Overlawyered may remember that this is not the first time eHarmony has been sued; in March 2006 we covered a suit filed in California by (who else) a lawyer, who was denied service by eHarmony because he was still married and claimed this was “marital status discrimination.”

{ 2 trackbacks }

Michelle Malkin » eHarmony forced to offer same-sex dating services
11.20.08 at 12:59 am
“Suit forces eHarmony to offer gay dating service”
11.20.08 at 1:24 am

{ 20 comments }

1 Roy Bickley 06.01.07 at 9:38 am

If indeed e-harmony were required to provide the service, would not they have cause to sue any provider of dating services to the gay community to require that they provide a full range of services?

2 Ima Fish 06.01.07 at 10:21 am

While I personally think that businesses should be allowed to discriminate in any way they want and the market should sort it out, that’s not the way the law is.

A beauty shop cannot refuse Asian clients because it only has expertise with white clients. A restaurant cannot refuse black customers because they lack expertise in serving black people.

I find the whole expertise argument absurd.

If you start a business matching people up, you cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation, that’s the law.

3 steveintheknow 06.01.07 at 10:23 am

David you are hooolarious!

I can always tell it’s your post within the first two sentences. First there is the set-up (serve out wide), and then the put away (forehand cross-court). You are the Roger Federer of overlawyered, one might say.

Sorry, got the French Open on the brain this week.

4 David Nieporent 06.01.07 at 2:09 pm

Ima: you missed the point we were making by citing Mr. Coleman. They aren’t refusing service to anyone. (Gays and lesbians are free to use the site.) They just aren’t providing a service some people want.

Is a doctor who specializes in prostate exams required to give gynecological exams, just because the former aren’t useful to women and the latter are?

5 Deoxy 06.01.07 at 2:09 pm

Ima Fish,

OK, put it this way: the run a dating service to match men to women and women to men.

They do NOT run a servicee to match women to women, or men to men.

Lesbians are quite fully allowed to utilize either service offered. That they want a DIFFERENT servic than one that is offered is not eHarmony’s problem.

This is like suing your wife’s OB because he won’t see you about your prostate problem.

6 E-Bell 06.01.07 at 3:50 pm

If you start a business matching people up, you cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation, that’s the law.

Hm. Must be a new law. Last I checked, sexual orientation wasn’t a protected class under federal discrimination laws. The majority of states are probably the same, though I don’t know for sure.

[DN: It's California state law.]

7 Ima Fish 06.01.07 at 5:08 pm

“you missed the point we were making by citing Mr. Coleman”

I see the point, I just don’t buy it.

What service does eHarmony provide? According to its very own website it “matches compatible singles.” Does eHarmony match compatible gays and lesbians who are single? Nope. If you are gay or lesbian eHarmony will refuse to “match a compatible single” to you.

“Is a doctor who specializes in prostate exams required to give gynecological exams, just because the former aren’t useful to women and the latter are?”

Your hypothetical is not even remotely analogous to this situation. Do straight single people enjoy a service which matches them with “compatible” other single people? Yes. Do gays or lesbians enjoy a service which matches them with “compatible” other single people? Yes.

“Matching compatible singles” is the same in both situations. That’s not even remotely similar to two completely different medical exams.

8 OBQuiet 06.01.07 at 5:13 pm

Ima,

Yes a woman can go into a barber shop and get her hair cut.

But if doesn’t want the standard men’s styles offered, should she be able to require that the barber acquire all the paraphernalia needed to give perms?

eHarmony claims to have studied the man-woman relationship enough to match members where one is of each. Are you going to require them to become experts on M-M and W-W as well as TransGenderedM -(who know how many combinations)?

9 Richard Nieporent 06.01.07 at 6:16 pm

Lanie Davis (yes that Lanie Davis) is eHarmony’s lawyer, and as one would expect he was quite contemptuous of the lawsuit. He stated that they had already had a similar discrimination complaint that was made to one of the human rights commissions in California dismissed.

It is apparent to everyone except Ima Fish that this is a totally bogus lawsuit. There are numerous other dating services that also provide the exact same services as eHarmony. It is not a coincidence that Ms. Carlson chose to sue eHarmony. What we have is an attempt by the Left to punish eHarmony due to the fact that the owner is an evangelical Christian.

10 Ima Fish 06.01.07 at 7:20 pm

“eHarmony claims to have studied the man-woman relationship enough to match members where one is of each.”

From eHarmony’s own website: “the first relationship service on the Web to use a scientific approach to match highly compatible singles.” Are there gay singles? Yep. Are there lesbian singles? Yep. Will eHarmony match them with “compatible” singles? Nope.

“It is apparent to everyone except Ima Fish that this is a totally bogus lawsuit.”

Wow, now that’s a persuasive argument. I’m not wrong because of some flaw in my argument. I’m not wrong because I’m misstating the law. I’m wrong because “It is apparent to everyone… that this is a totally bogus lawsuit.” Gee, if everyone thinks I’m wrong I’d better change my opinion. Follow the crowd. Jump on the bandwagon. Who has time to think?!

I’ll stand by my two previous comments until someone can show them wrong, without an embarrassing appeal to group-think.

11 nevins 06.01.07 at 9:39 pm

eHarmony utilizes proprietary algorithms to match people. How it determines a ‘match’ is a trade secret that it wants to keep from its competitors.
The mere fact that the algorithm used seems to always match a woman to a man and a man to a woman is merely the result of an imperfect emperic method.
So if a woman who believes herself to be a lesbian finds that eHarmony thinks a man makes a good match for her, who’s right. No customer is required to accept the reccomendations of the consultation provided. Indeed, in the interest of fairness to customers who think that they might get a same sex partner, eHarmony up front advises that this is unlikely to occur with their methods.
Perhaps eHarmony’s matches are perfect and the homosexual wants of some of its customers are simply mistakes.

12 gitarcarver 06.02.07 at 12:19 am

Is a doctor who specializes in prostate exams required to give gynecological exams, just because the former aren’t useful to women and the latter are?

This is like suing your wife’s OB because he won’t see you about your prostate problem.

I believe these analogies miss the mark in this case. Prostrate exams and OBGYN exams are two different specialities and the offer of provided services are not the same.

A closer analogy would be for a doctor to be an expert in prostrate exams. In offering prostrate exams to men he refuses to perform exams or not perform exams to the same standard for black males as he does for white males.

Ultimately, I believe that this is a free market issue and not something to be resolved by litigation. However, if people solved everything without suing, this site wouldn’t exist and I would miss the discussions. :)

13 Richard Nieporent 06.02.07 at 5:54 am

Ima Fish, I must have missed the instructions on this website where I must first convince you of the correctness of my belief before I am allowed to state an opinion. You are perfectly willing to believe anything you like. I would never attempt to change your belief because you are convinced of the righteousness of your cause. However, assuming that all matching services are not scams (if they are then why would anyone want to use them or do you believe that lesbians have as much right to be scammed as heterosexuals?) then unless one can prove otherwise, one would have to accept eHarmony’s contention that their system is designed to match people of the opposite sex. If that is the case then why are you trying to force lesbians to get inferior service? I would assume that even you would accept the fact that women and men are different. If that is the case then matching men with women is not the same as matching women with women or men with men.

14 Tom T. 06.02.07 at 8:56 am

It’s an interesting issue. The plaintiff will likely draw an analogy to race, and argue that a heterosexual-only policy is functionally equivalent to matching whites only with whites and blacks only with blacks, while barring interracial couples.

I think eHarmony’s real problem here is that it won’t want to let this case get into discovery, because then it will come to light that its dating algorithms are (presumably) pseudo-scientific nonsense.

15 Half Canadian 06.02.07 at 2:41 pm

Is a doctor who specializes in prostate exams required to give gynecological exams, just because the former aren’t useful to women and the latter are?

This is like suing your wife’s OB because he won’t see you about your prostate problem.

I believe these analogies miss the mark in this case. Prostrate exams and OBGYN exams are two different specialities and the offer of provided services are not the same.

A closer analogy would be for a doctor to be an expert in prostrate exams. In offering prostrate exams to men he refuses to perform exams or not perform exams to the same standard for black males as he does for white males.


Pshaw. Eharmony doesn’t offer the service of matching up gays and lesbians because they don’t know what factors are involved in matching up gays and lesbians. They would be offering a lesser service if they did this and they, from a corporate standpoint, would be diluting their brand if they did this.

And do we really want to mandate by judicial fiate that eharmony put the same amount of resources into aquiring this skill as they have with matching up heterosexuals? Only a fool would say yes.

And race > sexual orientation. That is a truly faulty analogy.

16 Regan DuCasse 06.03.07 at 10:38 am

I’m not defending eHarmony. In fact, I’m a straight woman that was rejected because I SUPPORTED gay people. In filling out their form, I wanted a mate that was gay friendly and also supportive of gay people.
And that was that…

My biggest problem with eHarmony is this line: “their research shows that same sex couples don’t have same abilities to commit”, or words to that effect.

Which is really saying that they believe the anti gay myth that gay couples don’t form bonds, or are incapable of doing so or nurturing each other with the same superior ability that heterosexuals do.
Hey, if anyone has to pay for matching services, and they are such big business precisely to take the hit and miss out of doing it yourself, then their point doesn’t make any sense.

Okay fine, so they don’t provide matching services for gay couples.
Goody for them.

But spreading the misinformation that gay couples don’t or can’t make good couples (while at the same time rejecting gay people who clearly WANT to be with someone), and pretending that straight couples have a lock on natural attraction and success (while match up services, divorce lawyers and children’s services are big business), the hypocrisy clearly has no bottom.

17 gitarcarver 06.03.07 at 12:28 pm

Eharmony doesn’t offer the service of matching up gays and lesbians because they don’t know what factors are involved in matching up gays and lesbians.

Yet eHarmony didn’t say that until this lawsuit. Until this lawsuit was filed, it only dealt promised to “match singles.”

And do we really want to mandate by judicial fiate that eharmony put the same amount of resources into aquiring this skill as they have with matching up heterosexuals?

Do we really want a company to provide the service for which they advertise? Only a fool would say “no.”

EHarmony should not be forced to put resources into anything other than they claimed they already had.

Clearly the best solution would be for the woman to get her money back and eHarmony to change their advertising or agreements to contain a disclaimer on homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

The judicial system won’t let that happen though as there is money in dem der hills.

18 Deoxy 06.04.07 at 12:05 pm

Ima Fish,

You want a flaw in your analogy? Fine, here it is:

Matching a gay couple is not the same serevice as matching a hetrosexual couple.

Therefore, your race analogy falls flat, and th OB analogy works just fine.

Actually, even better is the hairdresser/barber analogy offered so far. If you went to the barber, who claimed expertise in cutting men’s hair, and asked for woman’s style and perm, could they say no?

If the answer is “yes”, then this suit against Harmony is bogus. Plain and simple.

19 Deoxy 06.04.07 at 1:21 pm

Actually, I think my latest analogy was imperfect.

The barber analogy is still good, I just stated it wrongly.

Jane walks into a barbershop. There is a sign on the counter: “buzzcuts, $1″. Jane pays $1. The barber asks what length she would like her buzz, and she responds that she doesn’t want a buzzcut, she wants a perm, and proceeds to sue.

The service offered and paid for was available! eHarmony could certainly match the woman in question, just as they would any other woman… to a man. That the woman in question doesn’t WANT that service is not their fault – that’s what she paid for.

They are not refusing to give her the same service bcause of her sexual orientation… she is demanding a DIFFERENT service.

Actually, for the woman in question, they could also quite easily give her a blank page as the result of the search of their database for matching lesbians… because they don’t have any. Somehow, I think she would have sued over that as well.

20 Cruising Troll 06.04.07 at 9:11 pm

Interesting case. There are some serious moral and ethical issues at stake here. First though, some groundwork, via a better analogy.

An observant Jew (or Muslim) goes out for dinner one night in a strange city. While at the restaraunt, he asks whether or not the food is kosher/halal. When informed that it isn’t, does he have a basis for crying “religious discrimination”?

Now, perhaps the chef will inform the patron that they don’t have kosher food because a) they don’t have enough demand for it, and b) they don’t have the proper training and skills, etc. How does the religious discrimination charge stand?

Still, let’s look at another food analogy. Instead of religious person, we have a Montana rancher stranded in Granolaville for a weekend due to his pickemup truck breaking down. He goes out for breakfast, but the only thing he finds is vegetarian fare. When he asks why can’t he get steak and eggs, he’s informed that The Earth Goddess prohibits people from eating others Her Children, and so no steak and eggs. He’s welcome to have anything else on the menu, the tofu and sprouts with lemon are positively delicous. Religiously motivitated discrimination?

Finally, a last analogy: our rancher, still stuck in town, finds himself quite hungry come lunch time (tofu and sprouts coming up short in the “stick to your ribs” department!), and seeks out another eatery. This one has a similar menu. Somewhat annoyed, Duke inquires “why can’t I get a burger?!” The cook, with a world-weary yet beatific expression on his face, replies:

“because burgers are bad for you, so I don’t serve them.”

In all these analogies, the proprietors are failing to meet the desires of their customers, for a variety of reasons. None of them are refusing service to their customers.

What’s truly stupid about this case is that the plaintiff is seeking out the expertise of E-Harmony, in all liklihood because she hasn’t had much success finding her ‘soulmate’ on her own. Well, one of the “29 dimensions of compatibility” is sex (as in male or female?). E-Harmony’s expertise leads them to believe that males bond best in romantic relationships with females, and visa versa. So, having failed using her own criteria, she is demanding that they dispense with their own expertise and use her paradigm.

duh….

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