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Dinner, Discrimination, & You:
2 Menus and 1 Bad Lunch

Would You Like a Side of Gender Discrimination with Your Order?

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An upscale French restaurant called L’Orangerie, in West Hollywood, California got a lot of bad attention in 1980 after a woman named Kathleen Bick and a man, named Larry Becker  sat down for dinner and were handed two menus.  Why? Because the menu handed to Larry was green, and the menu handed to Kathleen was white.  Color wasn’t the only difference between the two menus though:  The white menu that had been handed to Kathleen was what the restaurant called a “ladies menu” and it listed all the items that could be ordered, but there were no prices next to each item! The green menu that had been handed to Larry had the same items, but this one included the prices next to each item!  For example, a serving of lamb would have cost $26 at the time (that would cost about $82 today!).

The different menus reflected a European tradition: Just  assume that the man always pays for the woman’s meal. Other ‘high-end’ (fancy) restaurants in the United States did the same thing at the time, but it wasn’t a super-popular thing to do so Larry and Kathleen didn’t know to expect it. The two got really mad (why after all should Kathleen be treated any differently) and they just left the restaurant without ordering.  Kathleen stated that she felt “humiliated and incensed [angry and enraged]”, when given the ladies menu.  Instead of ordering lunch, they ordered a lawsuit by calling a lawyer: Gloria Allred (who happens to be really famous – Google her sometime)!

When asked by their lawyer to explain the menus and why Kathleen had been treated differently, the restaurant owner just said “It is the French way”.  That lack of an apology or good reason, along with the owner’s refusal to end the dual menu when Ms. Allred  requested it led her to file a lawsuit on behalf of Kathleen and Larry.   Gloria said the two had been discriminated against based on their genders.  If that did happen, then it would have violated California’s Civil Rights Act (a law against discriminating against people).

For money, the lawsuit only asked the restaurant to pay $250 for the inconvenience, which wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it also demanded that they stop using 2 menus.  The restaurant owners defended their practice as the same as other practices some men did for women at the time like “…lighting a cigarette or standing up when she enters the room.”.  The courts were getting ready to hear the case, but Ms. Allred didn’t want to wait, so she decided to try something else.  Allred and her clients set up a table with an elegant place setting in front of the L’Orangerie restaurant, and called a bunch of reporters.   They showed up and covered the outdoors protest dinner extensively on television, radio and in newspapers.  The strategy worked and eventually the restaurant ended their dual-menu practice.   That led to Gloria dropping the lawsuit with her clients’ permission.

Restaurants in the United States that still practiced the dual menu, which were few and far between already, were warned in a 1981 publication that they may lose in court if they continued this practice, and it seems most of them stopped doing it.  It is not 100% known if any restaurants in the United States that still follow this practice. If they do, let’s hope that Gloria Allred doesn’t know about it.

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 Questions:

1: Why do you think the two plaintiffs in this case either exaggerated or didn’t exagerate their reaction to the dual menu practice? 

2: Why do you think they were or were not justified in feeling discriminated against? 

3: If this had happened to you, why would you have sued or not sued the restaurant?    

4: Here in Nevada several years ago,  the Las Vegas Athletic Club faced a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission after a  woman was given a free membership to the club but her husband was forced to pay an enrollment fee for the exact same thing! The couple filed a Civil Rights complaint against the gym, claiming discrimination because of his gender.  The commission isn’t the same as a court, but it can issue fines.  In this case, it found that the practice was discrimination.  Many businesses have similar practices – they encourage women to attend for lower or free rates, and charge men full price.   They argue that it is fair because men have been treated better for years (like having the right to vote long before women) so it’s just ‘making things even’.  What do you think: Why are ‘deals’ given to women a bad form of discrimination, or why aren’t they so bad?     


Be sure to provide full explanations for your answers.  For more details, you can read the articles this piece was sourced from here:
https://api.atlasobscura.com/articles/ladies-menus-no-prices-lawsuit
https://www.clubindustry.com/commercial-clubs/commission-rules-against-las-vegas-athletic-club-0




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2020-12-16T21:47:04+00:00
My favorite part of the fieldtrip to the courthouse is when I got to play the part of Ron. I got to go on the witness chair and speaking. I helped Potter to be not guilty. Thank you for the great opportunity. - Johnathan M  [Harmon Elementary - Grade 4]

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2020-12-11T20:39:35+00:00
Thank you for letting us watch the civil case!  It was cool because it was a real case and not one played out. I had a lot of fun watching the other kids act out a session.  Thank you for your time. - Kaylie [Hewetson Elementary - Grade 5]

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Thank you for letting us experience court for the first time.  It was the best experience ever, thank you for everything. You really made me think about being a judge. Thank you -Mina L [ Twitchell Elementary - Grade 5]
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