Sea Otter Classic organizers proposed for the first time in its history a celebration of Ladies Day on April 17, 2011, the final day of its annual multi-day cycling festival including racing, riding, demos and expos in Monterey, California. What they didn't expect was backlash from the National Coalition for Men (NCFM).
The Sea Otter Classic had scheduled a series of activities, free to ladies, with the aim to promote women's and girls' involvement in the sport. Those activities included a ladies-only road ride, a mountain bike skills clinic, women's bike fit seminar, bike maintenance and cleaning seminar, nutrition seminar, women by design panel session, wine and chocolate reception and a raffle drawing.
NCFM President Harry Crouch was unhappy that men were not included and complained of unequal treatment."Men and boys over the age of 12 had to pay $10 admission," read a statement in an article on the NCFM organization's website.
Crouch took issue with the fact that the event would be charging men for something women received for free and with the help of his lawyers, showed how it was a violation of several California laws, and Monterey County's The Herald then published an article on the topic.
"Mr. Crouch started making comments to us about a month ago. I suspect his organization has a 'Google Alerts' (or something similar) set up for Ladies Day, Ladies Night, Ladies Specials, etc.," explained Sea Otter President and CEO Frank Yohannan to Cyclingnews.
"We never have and never will intentionally violate the law," he said.
Crouch did not initially threaten a lawsuit. "He cited the Unruh Civil Rights Act, mentioned a number of court rulings, and sent us copies of filed complaints regarding this issue," said Yohannan. "There was certainly an implied threat of legal action. He has since posted on his website that Sea Otter avoided a class action lawsuit."
"Each of the 37 sponsors and the event organizers may have been liable. If just two males over the age of 12 were discriminated against and sued the Sea Otter Classic and its sponsors sanctions could have been as high as $340,000 plus attorney fees," read an article on the NCFM's website. "Imagine if a class action suit had been filed. You do the math... Considering what was at risk I'll keep checking the mail box for thank you letters from all the sponsors."
The Sea Otter Classic responded officially to Crouch via its lawyer Andrew H. Swartz. Yohannan shared the letter with Cyclingnews. "This is in response to your letter dated March 18, 2011 addressed to our client The Sea Otter Classic. First I want to thank you for presenting this issue to my client's attention. The Sea Otter Classic is proud of its full compliance with all laws including the anti-discrimination laws to which you refer in your letter. I can assure you that women and men have been and always will be treated equally at this and all subsequent Sea Otter Classic events and men will not pay a higher entry fee. Should you need any further information please feel free to contact me."
The Sea Otter agenda for women and girls on Ladies Activities Day remains the same. "We've changed the name to Ladies Activities and clarified that men are also welcome to attend these sessions. We hope hundreds of dads bring their daughters to Sea Otter!" said Yohannan.
"Because free passes were offered to women and girls on Ladies Day" Yohannan said to The Herald, "admission for men on Ladies Activities day will also be free."
"I have every intention of celebrating women on bikes for many years to come," said Yohannan to Cyclingnews.
"This looks like a great event. I’m hoping to attend," wrote Crouch on the NCFM website.
Check out the complete agenda for Ladies Day at Sea Otter.