A Bay Area lesbian filed a lawsuit against eHarmony, the popular online matchmaking service, for allegedly violating California law by discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals by not providing services.
Todd Michael Schneider, the attorney representing Linda Carlson, filed the complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court May 31. In the lawsuit, Carlson claimed that when she attempted to use the Web site in she was “denied the ability to do so based on her sexual orientation.”
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The Web site only allows selections between “man seeking a woman” or “woman seeking a man,” thus not allowing gay and lesbian individuals to use the service to assist with finding same-sex partners.
“This is a fabricated, totally bogus, and I would even say recklessly filed complaint,” said Lanny J. Davis, one of eHarmony’s attorneys. Davis, a partner at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe in Washington, D.C., is also a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton.
Davis told the Bay Area Reporter that he’s currently advising eHarmony, but that he didn’t believe that the company had made any final decisions about the litigation.
“The gay community has been told lies about eHarmony,” said Davis, referring to the lawsuit. “I’m sorry to say that a lot of my gay friends believe the lies about eHarmony.”
According to the lawsuit, Carlson made a complaint to eHarmony and pointed out that its “policies and practices were discriminatory,” but the company “refused to change them.”
EHarmony, which is based in Pasadena, California, allegedly violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act as a California-based business by discriminating based on sexual orientation, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit follows closely on the heels of the Adoption’s and ParentProfiles’s settlement last month after a discrimination suit was filed against them. The Arizona-based Internet businesses currently are closing out California adoption clients’ files and will cease doing business in California, under terms of the settlement.
“There is absolutely no discrimination under the Unruh Act” due to eHarmony’s business being “based on research and data concerning heterosexual married couples,” Davis added.
Davis told the B.A.R. that Carlson’s claim is “false” and that she had a choice, but “chose to check neither box.”
“It’s just plain old wrong,” said Schneider, with Schneider and Wallace. “Segregation in this country ended a long time ago and apparently eHarmony hasn’t realized that gay rights is civil rights.”
Carlson, through her attorney, declined to be interviewed. Schneider was asked if Carlson was the same woman who used to be executive director of San Francisco-based Openhouse, the LGBT senior housing agency.
EHarmony sued for discrimination
Neil Clark Warren, 72, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master’s degree in divinity, started the online matchmaking service in 2000. The Internet dating service is the only Web-based matchmaking service that is based on “empirical research and data” about compatibility factors that created successful marriages between heterosexual couples, according to Davis.
EHarmony bases its matching system on psychological and compatibility data, but the legal complaint cites that these are “attributes which are not owned solely by heterosexual people.”
“Their premise is that love between two gay people is somehow different between two heterosexual people,” said Schneider. “I simply don’t accept that premise.”
Schneider and Carlson could be right. Earlier this year a study, “The Close Relationships of Lesbians and Gay Men,” by UCLA researchers Letitia Anne Peplau and Adam W. “
Peplau and Fingerhut stated in the study, “Regardless of sexual orientation, most individuals value affection, dependability, shared interests, and similarity of religious beliefs.”
Other popular online dating sites such as Yahoo! Personals and Match provide same-sex services. Some smaller online dating services, such as Okcupid, provide dating services to all sexual orientations, including bisexuals.
EHarmony, according to Davis, remains distinct because it protects its clients by rejecting people who don’t meet the certain criteria, which includes an age minimum, being untruthful on the questionnaire, and “other issues that would suggest lack of marriage potential.” Davis pointed out that eHarmony rejects about 75 percent or more of the people who complete the application.
LGBT dating services, such as the newly launched based in San Francisco, and based in San Jose, provide focused services to gay and bisexual men and lesbian and bisexual women, respectively.
In a statement released this week by Patrick Perrine, the founder of MyPartnerPerfect and creator of its “Partner Perfect Compatibility” test for gay and bisexual men, he stated that he started the site “partially because of the discriminating policy of eHarmony and other ‘relationship sites'” that didn’t tap into LGBT individuals who were looking for “something deeper, that can last a lifetime.”
According to Davis, eHarmony just hasn’t done the research about successful same-sex partnerships and therefore wouldn’t provide the service until they had that research, but “we have not said, ‘no, we are never going to do that.'”
Schneider told the B.A.R. that this was news to him. According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today in after Warren broke his long-term relationship with James Dobson, founder of the anti-gay Focus on the Family, in order to reach a broader audience, eHarmony didn’t plan on expanding its services to lesbian and gay individuals. Around the same time Warren was quoted in USA Today, “We don’t really want to participate in something that’s illegal” when asked about providing matchmaking services to lesbians and gays, referring to the fact that lesbian and gay couples aren’t currently legally allowed to marry, except in Massachusetts.
In spite of Warren’s break from Focus on the Family, Christian groups are standing by the eHarmony founder. Americans For Truth, a “newly reorganized national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda,” posted a call to action on June 4 to support eHarmony.