It just took one “swipe left” for a California appeals court to reverse a ruling and deem the pricing model for Tinder Plus — a premium subscription service from the popular dating app — discriminatory. The case hinged on the way that Tinder Plus charged a higher monthly rate to users over the age of 30.
The Los Angeles appellate court revived the class action and made the ruling on Jan. 29. The plaintiff, Allan Candelore, claimed that the Tinder Plus pricing model was "discriminatory" and thus in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, § 51) and the Unfair Competition Law.
“We conclude the discriminatory pricing model, as alleged, violates the Unruh Act and the UCL to the extent it employs an arbitrary, class-based, generalization about older users’ incomes as a basis for charging them more than younger users,” Superior Court of Los Angeles County judge William F. Highberger ruled. “Because nothing in the complaint suggests there is a strong public policy that justifies the alleged discriminatory pricing, the trial court erred in sustaining the demurrer. Accordingly, we swipe left, and reverse," he said, thus reversing a lower court's ruling.
In March 2015, Tinder released “Tinder Plus,” a premium subscription option that grants users additional features, including “rewind,” which lets users reverse their mistake in case they accidentally swiped left (which is a rejection swipe) when they meant to swipe right (which indicates the user wants to match with someone). Additional features include the ability to "like" an unlimited number of users; extra "super likes," which assure that a suitor's profile is seen by the object of their admiration; and a "passport" feature, which allows users to match with people in a different region than the one they are currently in. The passport feature has been particularly convenient for single travelers to set up dates before they arrive at their destination.
Prior to the ruling, the pricing scheme for Tinder Plus was generally $9.99 per month for users under 30 or $19.99 a month for users over 30.
According to the court document, Tinder's "rationale” for segmenting pricing by age was a result of market research showing that “customers age 30 and younger have less capacity to pay for premium services.”
The court document states:
Although past cases have suggested age can serve as a reasonable proxy for income, we conclude Tinder’s alleged practice contravenes "the individual nature of the statutory right of equal access to business establishments that is afforded 'all persons' by the Unruh Act."
Debates over whether Tinder’s pricing model was ageist or discriminatory had been ongoing since its launch. Indeed, TechCrunch commented on the difference back in March 2015.
What is especially peculiar about this court case is the identity of the plaintiff, Allan Candelore, who is no stranger to litigation. In 2016, Mother Jones reported that Candelore was one of three plaintiffs in a separate California discrimination lawsuit that sued Chic CEO, a group that helped provide resources and support to women entrepreneurs. Candelore and the other plaintiffs sued the company for denying admission to a group of men who were trying to get into a women’s-only networking event hosted by Chic CEO.
According to Mother Jones, this wasn’t the first time Candelore sued a women’s group, nor was it the first time he had cited the Unruh Act. He was also part of a lawsuit against filed against Women on Course for being denied access to a different women's-only event, which similarly cited the act. As Hannah Levintova wrote in Mother Jones then:
The lawsuit is a recent example of a trend that several men’s rights activists have repeatedly deployed in California, one made more successful by their strategic use of the Unruh Act, a decades-old civil rights law named after Jesse Unruh, the progressive former speaker of the California Assembly. The law is quite broad, outlawing discrimination based on markers such as age, race, sex, or disability.
[. . .] Critics in legal circles contend that these lawsuits appear to be as much about making an easy buck as they are about defending aggrieved men.
While it seems very probable that Tinder Plus's pricing model was discriminatory, it is equally possible that Candelore is not necessarily the scrupulous civil rights advocate that the suit makes him out to be.