A year ago United Airlines offered a 10% discount to 18-22 year olds who booked through the United mobile app. At the time I put this as “older people pay more” while many readers didn’t feel this was a fair characterization. Now a court will decide.
The suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, alleges violations of California anti-discrimination law and seeks class-action status on behalf of customers excluded from the promotion because of their age.
The promotion offered a discount on flights within the U.S. and between the U.S. and either Canada or Meixco booked by June 30, 2020 for travel through December 31, 2020. The plaintiffs claimed to have qualified as MileagePlus members booking travel through the app, but were denied the discount based on age, and seeks $5 million and an injunction against future age discrimination by the airline.
In response to the claim under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a United spokesperson offered,
It is a shame that a few individuals take issue with an offer that is intended to make travel more accessible to more people. We believe this lawsuit is completely baseless and will defend ourselves vigorously.
Now, there are two things to remember here.
- You can sue for anything though if the federal case it too absurd the attorney filing suit risks a rule 11 letter and potential costs themselves (rather than costs merely being imposed on the client).
A woman recently sued in Delaware claiming that President Trump is “misleading people, deceiving them to sin, and dooming them to hell” and that once people are in hell the plaintiff will be unable “to love them for eternity” as her religion requires, thus denying her free exercise of religion.
- You can actually win for anything in California. I’ve had to fill out insurance applications at work that ask as a standalone question, “do you have any employees based in California?” Growing up with my family in the car business there, a mechanic once cheated on his wife and fully committed to his denial – in spite of picking up an STD – claiming he’d gotten it from a spider bite while working on a car. It didn’t matter that’s not how it works. This being California, he managed to go on workers comp for the alleged spider bite, and with the assistance of the government kept his marriage together.
Though I was surprised to see California ballot propositions for affirmative action, to raise property taxes on businesses, and impose rent control all lose, along with the elimination of cash bail and new data privacy regulations. Meanwhile the Uber/Lyft independent contractor proposition and new property tax reductions won (the latter allowing people with multimillion dollar homes to keep their low tax base when they move and pass it on to heirs, so much for taxing the rich). So California may be reaching its statist limits.
One Mile at a Time points out that Tinder lost a suit in California over a discount for under-30s. Younger people may be less willing to pay, and lower prices may stimulate business. After all, price discrimination is exactly what airlines try to engage in with low basic economy fares, and indeed those are attracting younger travelers (also less risk averse during the pandemic). But explicitly targeting younger customers with discounts may be different than having a disparate effect with discounts available to everyone. Lucky at One Mile at a Time sees youth discounts as akin to senior discounts.
If you think the class action is on face unreasonable, then you may believe that California’s possibly well-intentioned laws go too far – whether the suit is ultimately successful in leveraging a settlement from United or not.