Court case over ladies’ night may seem trivial but it does provide a lesson on sex discrimination
Gender-based pricing policies in bars and clubs are likely to stay, though ruling is an education for the industry and the Equal Opportunities Commission
Ladies’ nights are as much a feature of Hong Kong’s bar and club scene as elsewhere in the world. Owners give free or discounted entry and drinks to women to increase the number of customers and attract men. The prevalence proves how popular the idea is. But our anti-discrimination laws also mean it is illegal.
A district court judge’s provisional ruling last week that a man had been discriminated against by a Mong Kok club for charging him more for entry than female customers has highlighted the little-known fact. The decision has come as a surprise to some, been welcomed by others, but has also been criticised. Owners and operators contend that the practice is a business promotion and people unhappy with pricing policies have the freedom to go elsewhere. Some lawyers have suggested that the case was of limited practical impact and trivialised human rights laws. Still others wondered why a matter they considered unimportant was being decided on in the courts.
The Sex Discrimination Ordinance has a provision that charging for a service cannot be based on gender. Complaints are not uncommon and are usually amicably settled, sometimes with the mediation of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the guardian of anti-discrimination rules in Hong Kong.
The club refused to settle with the man and the commission took up his case so that a precedent could be set that would be binding on future complaints. Unfortunately, the club did not bother defending itself, so there were no legal arguments for and against.
An appeal could still be filed and damages have to be set. But there are doubts as to whether the case will ring the death-knell on ladies’ nights and gender-based pricing policies. The commission would do well to give its views on the ruling and lay out its reason for taking up the case; there has been criticism that its funding and time should be put into more prominent matters of discrimination. At the least, though, the issue has been valuable education for the industry and its patrons.