It’s unlikely — unless you work in law — that you’ve ever heard of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It’s a California state law that says that no matter someone’s “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation,” they are entitled to equal “accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” The law was enacted in 1959 by Jesse M. Unruh in order to protect minority groups from being discriminated against. But of late, men’s-rights activists have been using it against women-run companies to claim they’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination.
Alyssa Bereznak at Yahoo News delved into the world of MRAs lodging lawsuits against women in California whose businesses and events they claimed had excluded their “minority group,” a.k.a. men. It is absolutely terrifying to read: By using this 1950s law meant to protect women, men are winning discrimination lawsuits that have the potential to bankrupt entire small companies. Take Stephanie Burns, former owner of Chic CEO. When she hosted a networking event for members of her online platform for women entrepreneurs, this is what unfolded:
Two men named Allan Candelore and Rich Allison, who had each prepaid a $20 registration fee on the Chic CEO website, tried to enter the restaurant. According to a legal complaint that they later filed with National Coalition for Men president Harry Crouch, Burns turned them away at the door, saying the event “was only open to women.” They took a photo, left the premises, then promptly initiated legal action, turning to a 1959 California law written to prevent discrimination against minorities and women.
This kind of thing happens often in female-run start-ups in California, Bereznak says, and Alfred G. Rava, a lawyer representing several MRA cases, told her that “he doesn’t see the value in women-focused events, even if they have no discriminatory intent. He calls the desire to hold them ‘strange and sad.’”
But the lawsuits the MRAs lodge can be so costly that, as in Stephanie Burns’s case, women may be forced to shutter their companies. While Burns has taken a position as COO of another company, she misses running her own. She told Bereznak, “It was my life, it was what I wanted to do.” And men’s-rights activists were able to take it away.