MONTCLAIR, NJ – During the monthly meeting of the Civil Rights Commission, the primary topic of discussion was the possibility that gender bias in pricing may occur in Montclair business practices.
During past meetings, some residents had come forward to express that they may have been discriminated against based on their gender, particularly at hair salons, nail salons, dry cleaners and service-oriented businesses in Montclair.
Chairman of Civil Rights Commission (the "CRC") Jospeh Kavesh confirmed that the commission recently submitted a proposed Gender Equity in Pricing ordinance to the Township Council for consideration. The proposed ordinance was discussed at both the May 5 council meeting and again during the July 7 council meeting.
During the discussion at the July 7 council meeting, it was suggested that Township Attorney Ira Karasick and representatives from the Montclair business community along with the 3 Councilmember Liaisons, attend the next CRC meeting to further discuss the proposed ordinance. Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville, Deputy Mayor Russo and Councilor Rich McMahon were all in attendance.
“The CRC remains firmly committed to seeing a Gender Equity in Pricing ordinance enacted,” wrote Kavesh in an email to Montclair business owners.
Although the commission had invited several business owners and community leaders to the meeting to address the concerns, only two arrived. Representing the business community were Luther Flurry of the Montclair Business Improvement District and Diane Esty, immediate past president of the Upper Montclair Business Association.
After discussion on the possibility of creating the ordinance to enforce, Flurry and Esty chimed-in suggesting that the commission consider drafting FAQs and educating the businesses instead of enacting an ordinance.
Flurry had much to say on behalf of businesses citing costly resolutions for business owners considering attorney fees and possible fines. “This ordinance, through private enforcement, attorney fees, and the ‘confession of judgment’ clause create a situation stacked against the independent businessman and an opportunity for abuse.”
He added that he had spoken to a few Montclair Center Merchants prior to the meeting. Flurry said that they all agreed that gender bias is wrong, but also provided explanation as to why a perception may exist. Flurry continued, “We are generally against the municipality passing any ordinance that regulates business beyond areas that are common in local practice.”
Flurry added that the merchants he spoke with provided a rationale for why the perception exists since providing a female haircut requires more labor and dry cleaning a female shirt with grommets is also more labor-intensive.
Committee members David Toler and Deputy Mayor Russo expressed their own personal experiences with being charged more at the nail salon and expressed that posted prices should be in all service-oriented businesses.
Other CRC members cited the concerns of a resident who brought the matter to their attention, saying that she had brought in two similarly identical shirts for dry cleaning and were given separate prices since one was a male shirt and the other a female shirt. CRC members confirmed, after seeing the shirts, that they were almost identical.
After further discussion, several possibilities were proposed including:
Posting of prices for services ahead of time
Reviewing the similar ordinances that exist in Florida and NYC.
Establishing a nominal fee-cap, not to exceed $100 fine, associated with violation of the ordinance (if passed)
Educating the merchants and consumers
Instead of classifying prices based on gender, classify based on level of services (ie., long hair, short hair, shirts with grommets or no grommets, etc.)
Flurry maintained his position and read from prepared notes continuing to advocate for the business community saying,” I encourage the Civil Rights Commission to educate themselves, businesses and consumers on gender biased pricing and what the issue looks like from the perspective of both the customer and small business; I encourage the Civil Rights Commission to publish a best practice for businesses so that they know what is or is not a reasonable and legal pricing strategy. There may even need to be a section included on how to treat all customers with respect and dignity; I would encourage the CRC to publish a best practice for customers who think they have been discriminated against. There may even need to be a section included on how to treat business owners with respect and dignity; And I would hope that the first step in any disagreement is a calm conversation about pricing differences between the customer the proprietor.”
CRC member Steve Knox, who is also an attorney repeatedly reminded both the business representatives and CRC members that the CRC is not a code enforcer to be able to enforce the ordinance if passed. He also responded to Flurry’s idea of publishing best practices by saying that the CRC “cannot give legal advice.”
The commission stood firm on their goal of creating an ordinance, but repeatedly expressed that they don’t want to hurt the business community and are willing to draft an ordinace with input from the businesses.
Chairman Joe Kavesh and the committee members stated that they had reached out to business owners who did not show and would encourage businesses to come before the commission during the September 17 meeting to discuss their rationale for gender pricing and to work toward a reasonable resolution that would benefit both the consumer and the merchant.