Bernstein Comments in WSJ on EHarmony Settlement

Professor David Bernstein told the Wall Street Journal that a recently settled discrimination claim between online dating service EHarmony and the New Jersey attorney general's office poses some danger of encouraging similar discrimination claims in other cases. At question is whether services that target a niche clientele are at risk of being forced to expand their businesses in unintended ways.

The claim resulted from a complaint filed by a gay match seeker in 2005 claiming that EHarmony had violated his rights under New Jersey's antidiscrimination law by failing to offer a same-sex match service. As part of the settlement, EHarmony agreed to develop a Web dating service for same-sex couples that it expects to have in place by the end of March.

Saying the discrimination claim "seems like quite a stretch," Bernstein asked, "If you start a dating service for African Americans, do you need one for whites and Latinos? If you have one for Jews, do you need one for Christians and Muslims?"

EHarmony Settles Dispute Over Gay Matches, The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2008. By Nathan Koppel and Shira Ovide.

"In a statement Wednesday, eHarmony denied violating discrimination law and said its business had been based on years of researching opposite-sex marriages to understand what makes such couples compatible.

"EHarmony was launched in 2000 by Neil Clark Warren, an evangelical Christian who practiced for years as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Warren is no longer involved in day-to-day management but is the company's chairman. A spokesman said Dr. Warren had no comment on the settlement beyond the company's statement.

"A fringe activity a decade ago, online dating has soared in popularity, and many of eHarmony's competitors allow same-sex matches. Consumers are expected to dole out nearly $1 billion in fees for online dating sites this year, according to Forrester Research, and the market is expected to expand by 10% in each of the next five years.

"EHarmony is among the most popular dating Web sites, along with such sites as Yahoo Personals and IAC/InterActiveCorp's EHarmony attracted nearly 2.6 million unique visitors in October, a 28% jump from a year earlier, according to comScore Inc." 

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