State Senate Looks At Banning Gender-Based Bias In Retail Pricing

By Bob Egelko and Melody Gutierrez
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  Legislators in California are actually doing something about the fact that at times women and girls pay more for the exact same products. The Legislation being considered by the state Senate would forbid any gender-based discrimination in retail pricing in California. When it comes to men, women and money, the overcharges for items as simple as razors are real.  A study conducted in December by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs found that women paid higher prices 42 percent of the time.

San Francisco Chronicle

California outlawed sex discrimination against business customers in 1959, but it’s apparently still legal — or at least still accepted in practice — to charge females more than males for the same basic products.

A state legislator said at a recent hearing that he had seen a blue package of 12 Gillette Sensor disposable razors for men selling for $7.99 at a major retailer, while a pink supply of a dozen Gillette Daisy razors for women was priced at $12.99.

Another lawmaker said she went to buy a scooter for her granddaughter and wound up getting the red model, designed for boys, because it was $20 cheaper than the identically designed pink scooter for girls.

The only reason for the price difference was that the companies “know that most little girls prefer pink,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Legislation being considered by the state Senate would forbid any gender-based discrimination in retail pricing in California.

The bill, SB899 by state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Logan Heights (San Diego County), was approved by Jackson’s committee on a party-line 5-1 vote and sent to the full Senate on April 12, Equal Pay Day, so designated because women in the United States had to work until that day this year to equal the average earnings of men for 2015.

Gap in law remains
California took its first steps against retail discrimination in 1959 with the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Sponsored by future Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, the law required business establishments to grant “full and equal accommodations” to everyone regardless of race, sex, religion or national origin.

In 1985, the state Supreme Court, in a ruling by then-Chief Justice Rose Bird barring discounts for women on “Ladies’ Day” at a car wash and “Ladies’ Night” at a bar, said the Unruh Act prohibited sex-based pricing.

But state law still didn’t explicitly forbid businesses from charging women more than men — or at least regulators didn’t interpret it that way — and pricing disparities persisted. The first express ban on sex-based price discrimination came in 1995 with a law sponsored by then-state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, now a congresswoman. She had intended to apply the ban to all sales, including consumer goods, but to win passage she was forced to limit its coverage to services, like haircuts and dry cleaning.

So the gap in the law remained, and more than two decades later, unequal pricing is still a serious problem, said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California, chief supporter of Hueso’s bill.

Differences hit home
The group cited a study in December by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, based largely on similar prices charged by nationwide retail chains in most states.

Comparing products with similar materials and general appearance, the study found that women paid higher prices 42 percent of the time, men paid more 18 percent of the time, and the rest were equal. When women paid higher prices, the average increase was 7 percent, but it was more for some common or essential products, the study said: 12 percent for canes, 15 percent for supports and braces, and 48 percent for shampoos and hair conditioners.

Those differences hit home to Lisa Cuesta, a constituent of Hueso’s in Chula Vista (San Diego County) and chief operations officer of Casa Familiar, a social services nonprofit. She’s also the mother of a 7-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy and says she’s unhappily gotten accustomed to paying $1 to $3 more for toy building blocks or plastic cars and trucks that are pink, purple or yellow — pastels marketed as girls’ colors, she said.

“I don’t have the luxury or the time to go into the boys’ section and into the girls’ section” to look for the best deal, Cuesta said in an interview. “You end up spending more for the same thing.”

But after some price shopping for her own hygiene products, she said, “I no longer buy women’s deodorant. I buy men’s. It works just as good, and it’s cheaper.”

Business groups argue that some goods for women cost more to produce. To address that, Hueso added an amendment to his bill requiring equal pricing only for products with substantially similar content, quality and production costs. But the California Retailers Association and allied organizations say SB899 is still unworkable and would lead to a flood of lawsuits.

“It would be virtually impossible to ensure that the retail price of a product for ‘women’ would be the same as a similar ‘men’s’ product sourced by another buyer, from another vendor, in another market,” the retailers group said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.

Fears of litigation
Hueso’s bill, the letter said, “would require the supply chain in its entirety to maintain different pricing standards for California than other states” and “leaves thousands of products open to numerous threats of litigation.” Other signers included the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the Toy Industry Association and the California New Car Dealers Association.

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa (Orange County), the only member of Jackson’s Judiciary Committee to vote against SB899, said legislators should think twice before interfering in the free market.

“We aren’t forced to purchase certain products,” Moorlach said at the hearing. “You usually charge what the market will bear, and if you don’t want to buy it, you don’t buy it.”

But Hueso, who displayed the differently priced pink and blue razor blades at the hearing, said he was addressing “a question of fairness” in businesses making billions of dollars in California. And Holober said no more than a handful of suits had been filed under Speier’s 1995 law on consumer services.

At most, Holober said in an interview, the new legislation would produce “a modest amount of litigation against outrageous, pernicious and widespread patterns of gender rip-offs.”


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