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Law: Stores Can’t Charge Women More California Outlaws Prices That Discriminate Because Of Gender

Gov. Pete Wilson on Friday signed a bill barring merchants from charging women more than men for haircuts, dry-cleaning, car repairs and other services.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, makes California the first state specifically to prohibit gender discrimination in pricing, according to its author, Democratic Assemblywoman Jackie Speier of Burlingame.

“At long last, women are free from the wrinkles of discrimination in the marketplace,” Speier said. California women could save up to $1,350 apiece each year under the new law, Assembly analysts predict.

Numerous studies have shown that women pay a so-called “gender tax” in certain arenas of commerce. One survey by the Assembly Office of Research found that 40 percent of hair salons charged women between $2.50 and $25 more for similar services. Dry-cleaners charged an average of $2 more to launder a woman’s shirt, the survey found.

Other research has shown that department stores routinely make women pay for alterations to business suits. Men’s suits, by contrast, often are altered for free.

Speier’s bill - her second attempt to ban gender-based pricing - faced tough sledding in the Legislature. Some critics complained that such a law was unnecessary since discrimination is already illegal under the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. Others accused Speier of meddling with the marketplace, suggesting that women should merely shop around for fair prices.

Speier said that while the Unruh Civil Rights Act does indeed prohibit discrimination in pricing, surveys prove it is not protecting women. As for the marketplace argument: “If something is fundamentally unfair,” Speier said, “why should I have to shop around?”

Under the law, those encountering gender-based pricing could sue in civil court.