Friday, Aug. 19, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Steve Horner, a former talk show host turned life coach and writer of self-help books, has gained recognition filing successful sex discrimination complaints against bars and other businesses nationwide. His contention: Ladies’ nights, or other promotions that reserve freebies and discounts for women, are discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional.
After moving from Minnesota to St. George, Utah, more than a year ago, Horner set his sights on nearby Las Vegas, with its giant party scene fueled in part by the common practice of waiving women’s entry fees to clubs, lounges and pool parties.
His efforts to file complaints with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission began before the Legislature passed an amendment this summer specifically allowing for such promotions. After the law takes effect Oct. 1, Horner said he wants to use the evidence in his complaints as fodder in his one-man mission to reverse the amended state law allowing for ladies’ night promotions and other gender-based discounts.
Some states have outlawed ladies’ night promotions as discriminatory, but the practice has few critics among either liberals or conservatives. Horner and other men who have challenged the policies get little sympathy from the public, which has called them everything from “woman-haters” to “party poopers” and “buffoons” in print and online.
Horner’s efforts have so far gotten the cold shoulder in Nevada, a state with business-friendly laws and a libertarian attitude toward sexual stereotypes. Even the ACLU won’t support Horner’s cause, saying the practice of charging male customers to get into bars and clubs doesn’t rise to the level of a constitutional injustice.
Horner says his first complaint, against the Blue Martini bar and restaurant in Las Vegas, was rejected by the Nevada Equal Rights Commission last year because he never actually visited the bar in person.
That’s why Horner made sure to visit some bigger adversaries on his list: casino pool parties.
The 63-year-old showed up with a tape recorder and microphone to record information that’s common knowledge around town: While he had to pay $15 to $50 to get into pool parties, women got in free or at reduced rates.
Those efforts resulted in six complaints filed last month and this month against Hard Rock, Tropicana, MGM Grand, M Resort, Rio and Mirage — each seeking a minimum of $2,000 in damages plus attorney fees.
Horner said casino employees laughed when he asked whether he could get into the events free or at the reduced “women’s rate.” They seemed unconcerned, he said, when told they were being taped.
Until recently, casinos had reason to worry about such complaints. In 2008, the Nevada Equal Rights Commission determined that a promotion offering women free membership to Las Vegas Athletic Clubs while men paid membership dues was discriminatory. The commission — which has not ruled on the merits of any similar cases before or since — acknowledged that different pricing for men isn’t unusual, but it couldn’t allow the gym’s policy after it was presented as evidence.
Horner said he learned of the law change when a state attorney reviewing the complaints informed him they would soon be moot.
The commission will continue to accept and consider “sex-based pricing” complaints until Oct. 1, Nevada Equal Rights Commission Administrator Shelley Chinchilla said. After that date, the commission will dismiss them outright for lack of jurisdiction, she said. Chinchilla wouldn’t comment on Horner, as complaints are confidential by law unless they go to a hearing.
Horner has since written a letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval and talked with legislators about reversing the amendment, to no avail.
Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of ACLU of Nevada, said he thinks Horner’s complaints are dead in the water even now, before the amendment takes effect.
Courts are unlikely to view discounted or free rates or services reserved for women as an injustice compared with other forms of discrimination, he said.
Any efforts to remove the state amendment would be met with more than the bemused reactions of casino workers. The powerful Nevada Resort Association lobbied for the business exemption based on the financial benefits pool parties generate for casino giants and thus, the state as a whole.
Horner said he welcomes a public battle.
“How can you say you’re an egalitarian state one moment, and then you’re not when there’s money to be made?” he said.