By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, Wallace E. Boston School of Business
This is the first of two articles on sex/gender discrimination against nightclub patrons in Nevada.
Racial discrimination has surfaced again in the United States as a very tense and sensitive subject, not that it wasn’t in some ways a part of American culture. But recent police killings of unarmed Black citizens and the regressive policies of the Trump administration toward issues like religious freedom and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) rights have had the effect of pouring gasoline on the flames of social injustice.
Start a hospitality degree at American Public University.
In the wake of these issues, we should not forget that there are still badges of other kinds of discrimination and injustice lingering in our society, permitted to remain by little-known loopholes or omissions in the law. Take for example the issue of gender discrimination in nightclubs.
I recently wrote a six-part series on marketing and operations in nightclubs in Las Vegas in which I discussed many of the business challenges in this sector of the hospitality industry. But one of the issues I intentionally saved for a separate discussion — these two articles — is the issue of gender discrimination among customers.
Clubs in Las Vegas and Elsewhere Engage in Gender-Discriminatory Behaviors
Day clubs and nightclubs — in Vegas and virtually everywhere else — engage in behaviors that are unambiguously gender-discriminatory. The two most common ways they do this are:
1. Admissions quotas, such as allowing certain ratios of men versus women to enter a club in order to maintain what is perceived to be a desirable environment for clientele
2. Special pricing events, such as “Ladies’ Night” promotions when cover charges and/or drink prices may be discounted for female patrons
The discriminatory nature of these policies is inarguable. But to many Americans, they seem far less nefarious and evil than other types of discrimination like police brutality toward African Americans or government-led hostility toward Muslims. After all, what’s the harm in “Ladies’ Night,” right?
But others look at these practices as sexist and misogynistic paradigms that perpetuate gender stereotypes and dominance-subversion roles. I can tell you from experience managing nightclubs and observing patron behavior that they’re largely right.
First, there’s the obvious point that these policies objectively favor women and disfavor men, which is de facto discrimination. However, I won’t drill this point too hard because, beneath the surface, far more interesting is the fact that both of these practices are actually shameless attempts to attract women for the purpose of attracting men. They promote female attendance so as to create an aesthetic that men consider pleasing.
Also, the “odds” change to be more favorable in what many males view as the proverbial “mating grounds” for finding a companion. In this sense, women become bait for a male clientele that is perceived — rightly or wrongly — to have greater economic value to the operator.
Think of it this way. Would nightclubs waive covers and discount drinks for women if they thought they could still charge them full price and see the same volume of sales and profit? Of course not. They discount the women to increase patronage overall. But not primarily for the women themselves. Because remember, those covers are free and those drink sales are not earning full margin. No, they do it because they know that where the women are, the men will follow.
In addition, critics of these practices also worry, rightfully so, that their continued legality creates a slippery slope that allows for the defense of other discriminatory practices to be couched in a “what about…?” argument. For example, if a sexist restauranteur or hotelier wanted to charge men twice as much as he did for his women patrons, he could simply argue that nightclubs do pretty much the same thing. And he’d be right. So where is the line?
Notwithstanding individual opinions on these subjects, however, a key question is: Are these policies legal? A lot of people believe that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex/gender, but if that’s true, how are nightclubs allowed to do this kind of thing? The answer — as is the case with virtually any legal question — is complicated.
In the concluding part of this series, I’ll explain why.