In a case involving Roommates.com, the U.S. Court Of Appeals has ruled in an 8-3 vote that internet businesses cannot ask the sexual orientation of clients, saying that it was no different than asking someone in person or by phone if they are Jewish or black.
“If such screening is prohibited when practiced in person or by telephone, we see no reason why Congress would have wanted to make it lawful to profit from it online,” 9th Circuit chief judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “Not only does Roommate ask these questions, Roommate makes answering the discriminatory questions a condition of doing business.” Roommates.com says it offers more than 100,000 rental listings on its site across the United States and is owned by Roommate.com LLC. The court contrasted such requests for information with online search engines such as Google, which could allow people to search for terms such as “white roommate.”
One of the dissenting judges wrote: “The majority’s unprecedented expansion of liability for Internet service providers threatens to chill the robust development of the Internet that Congress envisioned.” Roommates.com will be allow to continue to offer an optional comments section where clients may reveal any personal information they care to.
Interesting ruling. Personally, I’d like to know whether a roommate applicant were gay or not before I pursued contacting them. But obviously, internet businesses (or any others) shouldn’t be allowed preclude gay people as clients. Tough call.