New York Officials Nail Salons Over Gender-Based Pricing

May 29, 2012

It’s a man’s world….unless you are going to the salon.

But New York state officials are cracking down on salons over what they call gender-pricing discrimination.

According to this story in The Wall Street Journal, more than 130 salons and barbershops have been hit with fines so far this year for “violating a little-known provision that has many pulling their hair: gender-pricing discrimination.”

Typically, salons charge men a slightly higher price for things like pedicures, manicures, and waxing. Salon owners argue that you can’t compare the work and services required for a man and a woman.

“At Vanilla Hair Spa, manager Oksana, who didn't want to give her last name, said the charge to wax men used to be $5 more than for women.”

"If someone's waxing a man's back and a woman's back, it's like day and night," she said. "Of course it takes longer for men. It's more labor, more product."

The city acknowledges that there may be reasons for different prices, but argues that gender shouldn’t be one of them. Says Department of Consumer Affair’s Commissioner Jonathan Mintz:

“I think there are completely legitimate reasons to charge different prices for different services and that one should be specific for what those reasons are. Reasons are not chromosomes.”

Salons and barbershops aren’t the only businesses getting dinged in the crackdown: dry cleaners are also getting steamed.

“While salons have received the most violations so far this year, in 2011 laundry and dry-cleaning businesses received 272 violations, compared with 269 for salons. In 2010, on the other hand, dry cleaners had only five violations, while "miscellaneous nonfood retail," which includes salons, had 207 violations.”

Another interesting thing to note is that these crackdowns aren’t occurring because of customer complaints. Rather, these violations are all coming from department sweeps.

“The city's Department of Consumer Affairs began stepping up enforcement of the law last year, when it issued 580 gender-pricing violations to businesses, more than double the 212 doled out the year before.”

What do you think? Should businesses be able to charge different prices for the same service for men and women? Or is this just another example of regulatory overreach? 

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