February 3rd, 2003

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Gameworks marketing

Talked with the marketing person at Gameworks. According to him, they did not know of any Seattle ordinance they are violating. He said he wasn't a lawyer though, and wanted to get more information from me. I pointed him out to RCW 49.60.030 which bans discrimination in public accommodations in Washington. He was aware of a case involving the Sonics but didn't know what the result was. I gave him the name of the case, Maclean v. First Northwest Industries. He said he would look into this and get back to me within the next two days.

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Maclean v. First Northwest Industries

He called back an hour later. Apparently the case was reversed on a successive appeal.

So I went and looked up that decision. Not sure why I didn't find it in the first place. Anyway, it was a split decision. 3 judges fully agreed with the reversal. 2 more judges agreed with the result, but the file does not say on which of the three items above they concurred in order to concur with the result. 4 judges dissented (with two separate dissenting opinions). One judge did not participate in the case at all.

Here's why:

  1. Civil Rights - Law Against Discrimination - Private Action - Damage - Necessity. Conduct is not actionable under the Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60) unless it results in actual harm.
  2. Civil Rights - Law Against Discrimination - Public Accommodations - Price Differential - Validity. A differential in admission prices is not discrimination under RCW 49.60, prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation, unless such price differential also makes the affected person feel unwelcome, unaccepted, undesired or unsolicited, when there is no showing of actual damage.
  3. Statutes - Validity - Standing To Challenge. A party challenging the constitutional validity of a statute or governmental action must demonstrate that the challenged activity has operated to his prejudice.

In reading this, it seems the result was based more on the standing of the plaintiff than on the merits. Specifically, the first item was a result of the fact that both the plaintiff and his wife went to the game. Under Washington law, marital property is common. In other words, because his wife also went to the game, there was no harm to him personally, because the discount is shared between him and his wife under the common property statute.

Item #2 meant that the plaintiff, absent any financial damage, had to show that he felt unwelcome, unaccepted, undesired or unsolicited. He apparently never covered that point at the trial court level, and was not allowed to amend his complaint to include such an item.

Reasoning for item #2 and #3 was this:

The respondent has offered no reason why the owners of the team would be motivated to single out their own sex for discrimination, when that sex comprises their most dependable customers. To state the proposition is sufficient to establish its improbability.

In the absence of some showing that the prices charged were unreasonable or forbidden by statute, we perceive no reason for judicial intervention in ticket-pricing policies which are designed not to exclude anyone but to encourage attendance. It is not denied that the pricing policies at the Sonics games have furthered that purpose. Nor is there the slightest evidence offered that the respondent's disgruntlement is shared by any sizable number of fans. What evidence there is in the record shows the contrary.

According to the affidavit of the vice-president, a sizable majority of fans have indicated their approval of promotional programs such as "ladies' night". Perhaps the time will soon arrive when most will shun them. When that occurs, we would expect that the demands of the marketplace will dictate that the programs be abandoned.

In other words, because a large majority of men do not feel unwelcome (i.e., are willing to pay the extra money) there is no discrimination absent a monetary penalty (which Maclean didn't have, due to the fact his wife also went).

I'll summarize the dissents in another entry.

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Lillian Weiss

While researching the Gameworks thing, I noticed that all state supreme court decision from 1931 to the present are available online for free. My mother mentioned that my grandparents' divorce case went all the way to the state supreme court, but had never mentioned why. So I just now went and looked LILLIAN S. WEISS v. GEORGE A. WEISS. (That link won't work unless you have some cookies previously established by visiting the mrsc.org site.

Here's what precedent the case decided. Previously, the court had decided that findings of fact by a trial court judge (absent a jury) will stand unless so much of the finding or findings as is claimed to be erroneous shall be set out verbatim in the brief. What my grandfather challenged as erroneous in fact was the present value calculation of his retirement benefits. The court has assigned a present value of $52,881 to those benefits, which came out of his half of the community property. My grandmother received $77,421, and my grandfather received $30,798 plus the retirement benefits. He felt the valuation of the retirement benefits was too high and should be calculated differently.

  1. Appeal and Error - Findings of Fact - Setting Out in Brief - Necessity. Compliance with ROA 43, which relates to a review of a lower court's factual determinations, is mandatory.
  2. Divorce - Disposition of Property - Discretion of Court - Review. A trial court's exercise of discretion in dividing the property of parties to a divorce will be disturbed on appeal only for a manifest abuse of such discretion.

I'm not sure based on reading the legalese, but it appears that item #1 is that my grandfather didn't follow legal procedure in the formation of his argument.

On item #2, it appears that they decided the merits of the case anyway, despite the fact that they could have ignored them and decided only on procedural grounds. In this they said that the valuation of his retirement benefits stands unless he can show that the judge's calculation was grossly wrong.

I don't know how much a difference in valuation he was asking for. He lost.